Measuring Colleges’ Access and Diversity Efforts

"Not only do colleges have different goals when it comes to diversity, they don’t all define the term the same way. That has made one committee’s efforts to develop an index for rating colleges’ commitment to access and diversity a challenge, writes Sarah Pingel in a guest post [for The Chronicle of Higher Education's Head Count blog]. Ms. Pingel, a researcher at the Education Commission of the States, is scheduled to speak on this topic at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ annual meeting this week.

Can an institution’s commitments to access and diversity be quantified? And how are those commitments expressed in financial-aid policies?

Those are the difficult questions that the access and diversity committee of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators has been considering this past year. The committee, on which I served, comprises mainly financial-aid administrators and Nasfaa staff.  We were charged by Nasfaa’s leader with studying the feasibility of developing an index that could rate colleges’ commitments to access and diversity, as stated through their financial-aid policies. We examined recent higher-education research related to access and diversity, and held group discussions and presentations.

The committee found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that college is quickly becoming more expensive, and that many families run the risk of being priced out of a quality education. We sought to find out what aid offices can do to preserve access in an environment rife with increasing costs and stagnating aid. Barring an unlikely sudden infusion of financial-aid dollars, what can financial aid offices do to foster access and diversity?

We also quickly found that the concepts of access and diversity were extremely difficult to define, let alone quantify. As soon as we explored the literature, we found a broad array of understandings of what diversity is."

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