Diversity is a key ingredient to equality and innovation in all areas, from the workplace to our learning institutions. Diversity is valuable and critical for basically all situations in our society. But what exactly is it? Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements,” especially “the inclusion of people of different races, cultures, etc. in a group or organization.”
Lack of diversity can indicate the possible use of discriminatory practices aimed at excluding some groups while bestowing privileged access to others. This is not only unfair but frankly unwise. Indeed, the world of higher education, once a guilty gatekeeper that restricted access to knowledge to only an elite few, has scrambled in recent years to make amends by embracing diversity wholeheartedly.
Why is Diversity Important in College?
What has driven this change in the tides? Why are some of these old, elitist institutions finally waking up to the importance of diversity? From a purely business standpoint, they’ve had to in order to stay open and keep the lights on. As the population is becoming more diverse, the customer base for schools is also becoming more diversified.
Many institutions have seen this as motivation to reform and an opportunity to stand out from their peers who are slow to get with the times. But in truth, a lot of schools are embracing diversity because:
- It’s the right thing to do
- They recognize that the influx of new perspectives greatly contributes to the ability of schools to stay relevant
This change does not only apply to students. By onboarding fresh faculty, curricula, and revitalizing campus culture to be tolerant, inclusive, and open-minded, schools can better produce well-rounded, critical-thinking students capable of innovation and creativity.
Long story short, diversity is vital to the survival of higher education institutions. Without it, they run the risk of becoming obsolete ghost towns.
How To Measure Diversity in Colleges?
Is it possible to quantify a school’s level of commitment to diversity? Yes!
We’ve identified six statistical categories to quickly measure diversity in order to create our list of the 20 Most Culturally Diverse Colleges and Universities in the U.S. for 2022. Below is a brief summary of the categories with an explanation for each:
- Pell grant graduation rate – Pell grants are typically given out to students with exceptional financial need, which often include underprivileged, minority groups. Higher Pell grant recipient graduation rates are an indicator of a school’s commitment to helping such students.
- Non-Caucasian graduation rate – Solid minority student graduation rates are another clear indicator that schools are putting in effort to address the educational gap such students have historically faced.
- Variation in graduation between races – Related to the above category, variation of graduation between races refers to any noticeable disparity that could hint at bias or other institutional problems.
- Diversity of students (% of non-Caucasian students) – Most diverse colleges that have truly diverse student populations will feature a strong mix of students. This is easily measured by the racial/ethnic statistics of enrollees, which many schools post on their websites.
- Diversity of full-time instructional, research, and public service staff (% of non-Caucasian faculty/staff) – A sincere commitment to diversity extends to faculty and staff, not just students. This data isn’t always as easy to come by, but colleges that are proud of their employee diversity stats often publish them.
- Percent of instructional staff who are women – In addition to racial and ethnic diversity, schools must be proactive in recruiting women into faculty positions, especially in STEM fields.
Top 20 Most Diverse Colleges and Universities in the U.S.
Below are the most diverse colleges and universities with a student enrollment population of over 750 students, according to our methodology listed above. Please note, although our ranking does not include trade/vocational schools, such institutions provide equally viable education paths.
Known for being selective with admissions, Los Angeles’ famous University of Southern California is an acclaimed international center for learning and research and home to the popular Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. Also noted for its Olympics-level athletics and strong ties to the film industry, USC is the alma mater of celebrities such as Will Ferrell, Forest Whitaker, and LeVar Burton. Its demographics page cites that 70% of the student body is comprised of Asian, Black, Hispanic, International, or other student categories.
19. Emory University
A private research university in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory features the largest healthcare system in the state and benefits from one of the most lucrative financial endowments in the nation. Faculty and alumni include numerous notables, including a Vice President of the United States, a Speaker of the House, a Supreme Court Justice, Prime Ministers, university presidents, members of Congress, Nobel Peace Prize winners, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize and Emmy winners, Fortune 500 CEOs, and many more influential people.
Emory has been on the forefront of women’s and civil rights movements as well, and in recent times highlighted its “efforts to create a more diverse student community…resulting in a multicultural, multiethnic, regionally, religiously and nationally rich mix of students.”
University of California’s sunny Merced campus is the newest UC institution, created specifically to “address chronically low levels of educational attainment in the region.” Of all UC schools, the highly-ranked UC Merced has the most low-income students coming from underrepresented ethnic groups. Of the entire student body, 63.8% of them receive Pell Grants.
The college is a major area employer and one of the most sustainable universities in the nation. UC Merced lists that it has under 9,000 enrolled students.
- 42% of undergraduate students are studying programs related to social sciences, humanities, or arts
- 26% are studying natural sciences
- 28% are studying engineering
- 91.1% of undergraduates identify with some kind of minority group
- 51.7% of students identify as female
Cal State’s Long Beach branch rests upon a spacious 322-acre campus with over 39,000 enrolled students. Featuring 82 bachelor’s degree options and 65 master’s degrees, the school enjoys one of the largest publicly funded art schools in the country. It also offers one of the lowest tuition rates, making it more accessible than most of its peers.
Nicknamed “The Beach,” the school touts itself as “a force for good at the forefront of public education in California and the world.” It is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, defined as where at least 25% of undergraduate full-time students are Hispanic, and half of degree-seeking students are low-income.
16. Barnard College
New York City’s Barnard College is a private women’s liberal arts school under Columbia University. Founded in 1889, Barnard has a long tradition of “Women Leading the Way.” A member of the Seven Sisters group of prominent women’s higher ed institutions, the college hosts many sororities, including six Panhellenic Conference chapters.
Barnard College is one of the most selective of all women’s colleges and one of the highest-ranked liberal arts schools in the nation. The college features Bachelor of Arts options in ~50 subjects and has a close affiliation with Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music.
The University of California, Riverside features a spacious 1,900-acre suburban campus and vibrant academic programs including many natural and agricultural science degree options. Home to two massive four-story libraries, the school administers numerous important museum collections. It boasts a substantial Asian American and Hispanic/Latino student population and has been lauded as one of the best LGBT campuses. Clearly, UC Riverside takes student diversity seriously!
Another University of California entry, the beachside San Diego branch has ~35,000 students and a 90%+ graduation rate. Known for its diverse range of student organizations and clubs, UC San Diego features more modernized facilities than some of its historical state counterparts, receiving an A- score for “Facilities” (as well as for “Students and Culture”) by our college ranking team.
UC San Diego goes above and beyond when it comes to strategic planning for inclusive excellence, taking a progressive stance to “continue the nontradition” while raising over $2.6 billion in its campaign to enhance school diversity and educational access for the “next generation of changemakers.”
Fiat lux (“Let there be light”) is an apt motto for this diversity-embracing institution based in the heart of California’s ultimate college town. A prized member of the UC system, UC Davis started as an agricultural college and is today classified as a “very high research activity” school.
The esteemed faculty core consists of dozens of members of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Law Institute, Institute of Medicine, and many other prestigious organizations. UC Davis ranked #35 on Forbe’s America’s Best Employers for Diversity 2021 and is considered highly affordable given its elite institutional status.
Located in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Mount St. Mary’s University (aka “The Mount”) features three undergraduate colleges for liberal arts, business, and natural science/mathematics. Student population demographics are split evenly at 50% male, 50% female, with 41% identifying as students of color.
While the majority (61%) of students are Catholic, the university welcomes all faiths. It has a stellar 100% rate of employment for graduates within a year of completion. Even more impressive — The Mount notes it is in the top 10% of colleges in terms of long-term earnings for four-year grads!
Founded in 1885, historical Stanford University is located in the larger San Francisco metro area and is widely acclaimed as one of the top research institutes in the world. Featuring a quarter-based academic calendar and relatively high tuition rates, Stanford offers “comprehensive, need-based financial aid.” Noting that it doesn’t expect students to “borrow to meet their need,” the school cites that half of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid.
Stanford is known for its selectivity, which is based on multiple factors aside from academics. It takes a holistic approach that involves a thorough review of applicant backgrounds and life experiences, as well as details of character and intellectual contributions. To encourage student diversity, Stanford published an article to bust myths that potential applicants might worry about needlessly.
Founded in 1996, Stanbridge University is a multi-campus private university in California offering accredited nursing and other healthcare programs. As of 2019/2020, its students have a whopping 98.72% NCLEX-RN pass rate for first-time test takers, which is far higher than the average of most California schools.
Stanbridge is devoted to helping communities, with 1.4 million pounds of groceries distributed and $200K raised to feed homeless area citizens. The university’s mission statement “asserts that a high quality, accessible, and relevant education is the right of every individual,” and its programs are designed to “recognize the needs of a diverse, changing population.”
Originally a Baptist female seminary, Spelman College is a small “private, historically Black, women’s liberal arts college” based in Atlanta, Georgia. Its Museum of Fine Art is the only national museum highlighting “art by and about women of the African Diaspora.” Featuring numerous Honor societies and active student organizations, Spelman has an undergraduate enrollment of 2,207 (as of Fall 2020) and is highly ranked on many national listings, including our own!
Since 1821, Amherst College in Massachusetts has been a small and selective four-year institution with favorable reviews and top rankings. With just 1,850 students and a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1, Amherst features a diverse student body with 48% of U.S. students identifying as students of color. Despite its size, the school offers 41 majors and over 850 classes, not counting the thousands more provided via its Five College Consortium agreement. Fifty-seven percent of students receive financial aid, and the school has a superb 97% first-year retention rate.
Often landing in many esteemed college top ten rankings, Yale is a private Ivy League university that’s been around since 1701. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, it has an undergrad population of ~12,000 and is acclaimed for its law school and international partnerships. The alma mater of many Presidents and Vice Presidents, Yale is a hub of political activism as well as important arts and theatre programs.
On its diversity page, Yale compares its stats against national averages, noting it is “extremely racially/ethnically diverse” with 37% of students identifying as racial-ethnic minorities. It features a “High” score for faculty diversity and an almost 50/50 ratio of female to male students. The university does particularly well in terms of geographic diversity, with 93% of students coming from outside of its home state.
The University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus is home to ~14,000 enrolled students, 65 bachelor’s degree options, 41 master’s options, and 14 doctoral programs. Granting over 3,000 degrees per year, UPR‐RP is “the oldest and largest higher learning institution in the Caribbean,” with nearly 118 years of academic excellence, not to mention its vibrant cultural activities and traditions.
The school features engaged student support services as well as help for international F-1 students. There are many opportunities to study in both English and Spanish, enabling graduates to stay competitive in the changing job market. With a network of over 200,000 alumni and a gorgeous campus near San Juan, UPR-RP is an excellent choice for school diversity and the home of students from around the world.
Monroe College is a small private college located in New York City, with campuses and extensions in the Bronx, New Rochelle, Saint Lucia, and Manhattan. Boasting a 15:1 student-faculty ratio, Monroe has a diverse population of ~8,000 students representing 93 countries. DataUSA lists that ~40% of Monroe students are Hispanic, and ~40% are Black or African American.
Monroe is dedicated to increasing affordability and accessibility through 1,000 Presidential partnership programs. The school features an 82% retention rate for full-time undergraduates (higher than its peers) and provides over $27 million in scholarships and grants to students annually.
Close to Los Angeles and sandy Pacific Ocean beaches, the University of California, Irvine is a popular, affordable school with ~37,000 students, small class sizes, prestigious research organizations, and plenty of exciting student activities. The university has received countless institutional honors, stellar program rankings, and consistently high marks for sustainability, student diversity, and value.
Sometimes hailed as a “Public Ivy” because of the caliber of its educational offerings, UC Irvine features numerous resources and initiatives aimed at promoting diversity within the student body, faculty, and staff. The school has been listed as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution and a Hispanic-serving institution because of its high rates of student diversification in the prior years.
Located east of Los Angeles in Claremont, California, Pomona College is a 140-acre, extremely well-financed private liberal arts college that’s been around since 1887. With only 1,400 undergraduate students and ~250 academic staff, the school offers ~48 majors and is affiliated with the broader Claremont Colleges consortium.
Graduates have an incredible career track record, with alumni including Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Pulitzer, and Nobel Prize winners, as well as Senators, billionaires, Olympic athletes, and winners of many other prestigious awards. Pomona has an 8.6% admissions rate, noting that “There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ Pomona College student” and that students come from all walks of life but share an “academic drive and a goal of doing something meaningful with their lives.”
A newer institution founded in 1996, Miami Region University features an empowering motto: Saber Que Se Puede!, or “Believe You Can!” This modern school offers an array of practical business, education, and nursing-related degree programs, as well as courses in general studies and professional education. There’s also a popular Intensive English for Professionals of Other Countries program.
MRU promotes itself as more than an educational institution, but rather as a family “bonded through our diverse cultures, our unique curiosity and passion with technology and information, and our desire to help each other and the community.” It hosts an active Campus Life department that comprehensively supports diverse students in a streamlined fashion, making it easy to access services and participate in events and ceremonies. Meanwhile, the MRU Office of Career Services is always ready to aid with “career assistance, employment guidance, job search training, and job referrals” as students transition through degree programs and out into the job market.
Massachusetts’ Wellesley College has been a pioneer in women’s education since 1870 when it started as a female seminary under the “radical idea that women have an equal right to the best education in the country.” Featuring a 500-acre campus, 56 liberal arts majors, and over 150 clubs and student organizations, Wellesley enjoys a massive $2.2 billion endowment, empowering it to offer the highest caliber education taught by top faculty.
52% of its 2023 class identify as students of color, ~60% receive financial aid, and 18%will be the first generation of their family to graduate college. With admissions limited to women, Wellesley’s rule has been updated to incorporate transgender policies. The college is deeply committed to being “equitable, inclusive, and empowering,” working hard to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Resources for Diverse Communities
We hope our list of the most diverse colleges for 2022 helps you find your dream school or at least points you in the right direction. Our scholarship filter tool allows you to search for scholarships just for you, regardless of your gender, ethnicity, major, or several other factors.
The path towards the perfect education can be daunting, especially for underrepresented groups looking for guidance. There are numerous national national organizations out there offering ongoing student support, and here are a few to help you find your perfect U:
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund
- Consortium of Higher Education Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Professionals
- Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring
- Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
- National Action Council For Minorities in Engineering
- National Association of Black Accountants
- National Association of Black Engineers
- National Black Graduate Student Association
- National Indian Education Association
- National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)
- Thurgood Marshall College Fund