Diversity in Higher Education: Facts and Statistics

Around 40% of undergraduates are students of color. Find college student and faculty diversity statistics and read about the benefits of diversity in higher education.
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Data Summary

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    White students made up nearly half the student population in 2018, but this figure has dropped to 42% as of 2022.[1]
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    Hispanic and Latino/a students were the second largest group in 2022 at 17.5% of the total undergraduate population.Note Reference [1]
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    Black students made up roughly 11% of the student population; Asian students, 6%; and Native American students, less than 1%.Note Reference [1]
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    Research has suggested a positive correlation between attending a racially diverse institution with future earning potential and family income.[2]
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    In fall 2020, nearly 3 in 4 faculty members were white.[3]
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    White men make up 39% of all faculty and white women make up 35%.Note Reference [3]

In a 2021 BestColleges survey, 26% of students reported that their schools still need to develop strategies regarding on-campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Data show that having a diverse campus can benefit students, not only socially, but also when it comes to their future careers and earnings.

This report covers the racial and ethnic diversity of college students and faculty and explores why diversity is important in higher education.

Demographics of Colleges

This section explores college-student demographics by institution type and over time. The racial/ethnic groups considered include white, Hispanic and Latino/a, Black, Asian, and Native American/Alaska Native.

Racial Diversity in College Enrollment

In the fall of 2022, over 15 million total undergraduate students were enrolled in the U.S.Note Reference [1]

  • White students made up nearly half of the total undergraduate population at 42%.
  • Hispanic and Latino/a students were the second largest group at 17.5% of the total undergraduate population.

Diversity in College by School Type

Nearly 15 million students were enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2022.Note Reference [1]

  • Private, nonprofit four-year universities were the least diverse institutions: 47% of students were white and 33% of students were Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). 21% did not identify their race.
  • At public four-year schools, 46% of students were white, 38% were BIPOC, and 16% did not identify their race.
  • At public two-year schools, 38% of students were white, 44% were BIPOC, and 17% did not identify their race.
  • At public two-year schools, 29% of students were white, 42% were BIPOC, and 29% did not identify their race.

History of Diversity in College Enrollment, 1980-2020

According to 2022 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), diversity in college enrollment has increased with each decade.[4]

  • The representation of all racial/ethnic groups increased on college campuses between 1980 and 2022, except for white students.
  • White students made up around 81% of the undergraduate population in 1980, but only 54% in 2020.
  • The Hispanic and Latino/a population increased the most, from 4% of the student population in 1980 to just over 20% in 2020.
  • Put another way, Hispanic and Latino/a student representation increased a whopping 408% in the past four decades.
  • The Asian and Pacific Islander student population increased from 2.4% in 1980 to nearly 8% in 2020.
  • The Black student population grew from 9% to 13%.
  • The percentage of Native American/Alaska Native college students of the total student population increased slightly from 1990-2010. However, it has remained at about 0.7% throughout the decades.

Racial Diversity in Colleges, 2018-2022

In the five years between 2018 and 2022, racial diversity in higher education appears to have been relatively steady.Note Reference [1]

  • Undergraduate enrollment declined by 1.38 million students during this five-year period and all racial/ethnic groups' numbers decreased.
  • Native American students experienced the biggest drop with an 18% decrease in the number of students from 2018-2022.
  • The white student population declined by 17%, or 1.34 million students.
  • Asian students experienced the smallest decrease in the number of students (-2.6%, or 23,500 fewer students).
  • White students made up nearly 47% of the student population in 2018, but this figure has dropped to 42% as of 2022.
  • Enrollment percentages of Hispanic and Latino/a and Asian students increased.
  • Black student representation stayed about the same, at 11% of undergraduates.
  • The percentage of Native American undergraduate students remained consistently at 0.7% from 2018-2022.
Undergraduate Fall Enrollment Over the Years by Race, 2018-2022
Race/ Ethnicity 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 Percent decrease, 2018-2022
All Races 16.43 million 16.28 million 15.69 million 15.14 million 15.05 million -8.4%
White 7.70 million 7.43 million 7.05 million 6.60 million 6.36 million -17.4%
Hispanic and Latino/a 2.74 million 2.76 million 2.69 million 2.60 million 2.64 million -3.6%
Black 1.84 million 1.79 million 1.71 million 1.62 million 1.59 million -13.6%
Asian 899,200 907,100 892,400 860,500 875,700 -2.6%
Native American 122,200 121,200 110,400 102,200 100,600 -17.7%
Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research CenterNote Reference [1]

Diversity on College Campuses

Diversity on college campuses extends past racial and ethnic diversity. For example, BestColleges ranked some of the most diverse colleges based on several factors, including the percentage of non-white students, female students, international students, and first-generation students.

Diversity also includes gender, age, family structure, and more aspects.

  • Women have outnumbered men in college since 1979 and in 2022, 8.3 million women were enrolled in postsecondary institutions compared to 6.1 million men.[5]
  • In a sample of nearly 182,000 students, the American Association of American Universities found that 0.9% of undergraduates identified as nonbinary or genderqueer, and 0.4% identified as trans.[6]
  • In 2022, 9.7 million students (60%) were 18-24, 5.8 million (36%) were over 24, and the remaining 700,000 (4%) were under 18.[7]
  • In 2020, 6.5% of full-time undergrads lived with children under 18, compared to 23.7% of part-time undergrads.[8]
  • According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, one-third of undergrads were first-generation college students in 2018, meaning their parents did not have a bachelor's degree. Close to one-quarter (24%) had parents with no postsecondary education.[9]
  • Over 1 million college students receive GI Bill® benefits, meaning they are active military service members or veterans.
  • In 2020-2021, there were roughly 710,000 international students enrolled at U.S. colleges.
  • It's estimated that roughly 427,000 college students are undocumented, and 181,000 qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.[10]

Why Is Diversity Important in College?

Learning from people of different cultures and backgrounds has a positive impact on campus, and the majority of students desire diverse learning environments.

Benefits of Diversity in Colleges

In a 2013 publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research, authors Barbara Wolfe and Jason Fletcher show a positive correlation between attending a racially diverse institution and future earnings potential. This might be due to the fact that those who graduate from colleges with diverse student bodies tend to be more attractive job candidates for companies with a global reach.Note Reference [2]

Wolfe and Fletcher found that those who attended more diverse colleges could expect to earn a little over 5% more than those who didn't.Note Reference [2] They could also expect to make a family income of about 3.5% more. The positive correlation between attending a diverse college and earning a higher income was especially true for Hispanic and Latino/a students, for whom the additional increase came out to be nearly $10,000 more per year.

In addition to income increases, attending a diverse institution also resulted in students having more diverse friend groups.Note Reference [2] Those who went to a high school with a diverse student body had a significantly higher chance of having a diverse friend group in college.

In a BestColleges survey of over 1,000 prospective and current undergraduate and graduate students, the majority responded that racial/ethnic diversity improves the social experience (62%) and learning environment (59%) of schools. In the same survey, over half of the students (56%) answered that colleges should be responsible for increasing the representation of historically excluded groups in their student bodies. This was true regardless of a respondent's political party or race.

These statistics suggest that diversity in colleges not only benefits students in terms of future income and social life but also that students feel racial/ethnic diversity improves their postsecondary education experience.

Faculty Diversity

Research shows that Black students with same-race instructors perform better on tests and are less likely to drop out.[11] As reported by the Washington Post, diversity and education expert Leslie T. Fenwick and Howard University president emeritus H. Patrick Swygert asserted that students' interactions with faculty of color can prove to students that anyone of any race can be a model of intellectual authority.[12]

In fall 2020, nearly 3 in 4 faculty members were white.Note Reference [3]

  • White men make up 39% of all faculty and white women, 35%.
  • White women made up the largest percentage of assistant professors, instructors, and lecturers.
  • At the professor and associate professor levels, there was a higher percentage of men than women, regardless of race.
  • The percentage of women faculty increased with lower academic rank.
  • Only Black women made up a higher percentage of faculty than their male counterparts.