College is a time to expand your horizons. Being at an institution that values diversity exposes students to a range of different people and viewpoints. These perspectives help students develop better understanding, tolerance, relationships, and a greater interest in forging an equitable society.
Why is Diversity So Important in Higher Education?
But school diversity matters on another level, too. Incoming students want to feel that they belong, like they are attending school and being taught by a variety of people, including those who look like them. A heterogeneous student body contributes to a welcoming atmosphere for all. A diverse institution sends the message that you are valued for your goals and dreams, not because you fit a certain mold or come from a specific background.
Equally important is the commitment a university possesses to the success of all students. The best institutions do not simply pay attention to student diversity in order to create favorable statistics. Rather, they take real measures to ensure students receive the financial, social, emotional, academic, and employment assistance they need to obtain their degree and embark on a successful career.
How Do You Measure Diversity in Universities?
While many different ways exist to measure school diversity, our system utilizes these six categories:
- Pell grant graduation rate – Pell grants are federal assistance awarded to students exhibiting exceptional financial need. Looking at this statistic offers insight into whether or not an institution commonly accepts low-income students and commits to helping them complete their studies.
- Non-white graduation rate – Looking at this type of statistic gives a clue about a school’s ability to support its minority students. Common reasons students drop out include not feeling comfortable in the environment, monetary problems, and academic struggles. A high non-white graduation rate is a good sign an institution attends to these matters.
- Diversity of students – Will you encounter a rich mixture of ethnicities on campus? This figure takes a look at the full student body composition.
- Diversity of full-time instructional, research, and public service staff – Places that hire workers from various backgrounds demonstrate institutional commitment to diversity. These employees bring different perspectives to the table, and they serve as good role models for minority students.
- Variation in graduation between races – Similar graduation rates among white students and minority students is a good sign that a school is providing a positive experience for everyone.
- Percent of female instructional staff – Female teachers bring different perspectives and ideas to the classroom. Their presence and actions send a message of gender inclusivity in academia.
Note that we did not include trade/career colleges when compiling our list of schools. Many of these institutions do, however, offer outstanding educational programs to a diverse student population.
Top 20 Most Diverse Universities in the U.S. with an Incoming Student Population over 10,000 Students, 2022
Using our methodology, the following are the top 20 most diverse colleges and universities. Note that we only considered institutions with a student enrollment over 10,000. Also, we did not include trade/career colleges when compiling our list of schools. Many of these institutions do, however, offer outstanding educational programs to a diverse student population.
Ut Prosim (That I may serve) has long been the motto of this public institution in Blacksburg, Va. Today, that spirit continues through Virginia Tech’s InclusiveVT initiative that touts service to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
Recent efforts have focused on bystander training for those witnessing anti-Asian hate crimes and a YouTube series looking at people and programs serving underrepresented students and staff. Money has been allocated to improve recruitment of historically underrepresented students, with interested black alumni taking an active role. Students are in on the action, too. They founded Closing the Gap, an organization with a diverse membership that respectfully tackles controversial social issues.
When it comes to diversity, this big university makes a big commitment. Students hail from all 50 states as well as more than 100 countries. The campus hosts 14 multicultural fraternities and sororities, nine student-run culture centers, five cultural living-learning communities, and more than 200 cultural student groups. The U of M also frequently receives kudos as an LGBTQ-friendly campus with a Queer Students Cultural Center, trans-inclusive health benefits, and multiple dedicated hangout spaces.
Whether celebrating Latinx Heritage Month or holding a reception for new faculty of color, this flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system wants students and staff to feel right at home. Since 2016, nearly 500 different diversity initiatives have taken place at the school, ranging from international film showings to more inclusive signage to innovations in course curricula. One of the university’s top priorities is helping non-traditional students earn their degrees. The Center for Educational Opportunity takes a personal approach to academic success so that low-income and first-generation attendees have somewhere to turn along the sometimes bumpy road to graduation.
Ohio State proclaims itself “an inclusive, supportive community where you can comfortably join in or confidently stand out.” In Fall 2020, the school revealed statistics showing its efforts to recruit a more diverse student body are paying off. The number of minority students enrolled throughout OSU’s campuses jumped 6.3% from the previous year and reached a record high.
Likewise, the university’s graduate professional programs (law, medicine, veterinary science, optometry, and pharmacy) not only saw equal enrollment among genders, women actually slightly outnumbered men in every single discipline. And departments such as engineering are focusing on outreach to attract and retain more women and minorities to STEM careers.
In Fall 2019, an impressive 23% of the freshman class at Texas A&M were first-generation college students. Further good news: The university’s dedication to the success of these family groundbreakers has led to steadily increasing retention and graduation rates.
This public land-grant institution also frequently gets recognized for its commitment to another group: veterans. In addition to a Veteran Resource and Support Center, the university operates a special division within the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid to ensure vets get their full educational benefits. And when these servicemembers graduate, the university honors them with a special ceremony prior to commencement and provides recognition to wear on their academic regalia.
Just how much does Purdue want students from different cultures to engage with one another? The university offers a One Community Grant of up to $2,500 for student-driven programs that promote inclusion — but they must be a collaborator between an international and domestic student organization. With more than 135 countries represented among Purdue’s student population, a world of possibilities exist. Purdue also has a very active LGBTQ Center that celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2022. Way to go on a decade of activities ranging from Rachael’s Game Night to Queer Grad Coffee Hour!
For seven straight years, FSU has received a HEED (Higher Education Excellence in Diversity) Award as a place demonstrating outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. The institution shows no signs of letting up on its efforts. By Fall 2023, FSU’s goal is a student body in which underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities make up 37.4%. Likewise, it aims by that time for 15.4% of its faculty to be members of that classification. Tactics to do this include recruiting and retaining minority students, strategically addressing the hiring and retention of diverse faculty and staff, and fostering a campus culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion.
One look at CSUN’s stats for Fall 2020 and you can tell it’s a place that cherishes having a nontraditional student body. Of its more than 38,800 enrollees, 27,000+ of them are first-generation students. Hispanics represent the largest ethnic group on campus at roughly 54%. And when stating its gender statistics, CSUN makes a point of breaking figures down into three categories: male, female, and non-binary. The university also is known nationally for its large deaf studies program and the efforts it makes to help hard-of-hearing students get the most from their collegiate experience.
This public institution in Orlando doesn’t just want student diversity, it’s out to create alumni diversity. To that end, the school has put a special focus on addressing the disparity between retention and graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students and their white counterparts.
Their efforts seem to be paying off! In 2018, the six-year graduation rate gap between Hispanic first-time-in-college (FTIC) students at UCF and their white counterparts was less than one percentage point, compared to an 11.8 percentage point difference nationally. Similarly, the difference was 3.7 percentage points for Black FTICs, compared with a 23.5 percentage point difference nationally.
For many students, the road to Gainesville begins well before high school graduation. Among the school’s many recruitment efforts is the College Reach Out Program (CROP). It targets kids in grades 6-12 from backgrounds typically underrepresented at the collegiate level and offers academic, social, and cultural opportunities. The campus itself bursts with multicultural activities, with a plethora of student organizations dedicated to celebrating heritage and developing a sense of community.
If campus diversity begins by admitting people from a variety of backgrounds, U-M is well on its way. The student body of this large, public institution contains enrollees from all 50 states and nearly half the countries around the world. But don’t think the school is only interested in posting numbers. As part of a 5-year diversity, equity, and inclusion plan that started in 2016, individual school, college, and campus units have come up with more than 2,500 action items to truly make U-M a better place for all Wolverines.
When you attend a school with more than 50,000 students, it might be easy to get lost in the shuffle. U of I wants to ensure that never happens, especially to nontraditional students. A priority of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations is reducing the graduation gap between racially underrepresented students and white students. A major part of this effort is helping the students develop support systems with peers and faculty. Every student needs a place to turn to for academic guidance or even just a friendly smile!
UT strives to live up to the school’s motto “What starts here changes the world.” Following that belief, the university has developed a multi-faceted action plan to create a diverse, welcoming campus that turns out graduates ready to make a difference. Students hail from all 50 states and more than 120 countries. Of particular note is UT’s commitment to Latino student success. The school also has received national recognition as a disability-friendly college and as a great place for veterans to attend.
The largest private university in the United States takes its role as an engine of social mobility seriously. Twenty percent of the Class of 2023 are first-generation college students, and 19% are Pell Grant eligible. Much like the city it calls home, NYU attracts a rich mixture of backgrounds. Recent demographics show this student body composition:
- 24% International
- 20% White
- 19% Asian/Pacific Islander
- 19% Hispanic/Latino
- 9% African American
This makes not only for exciting exchanges within the classroom but also a campus brimming with cultural activities.
“Be Boundless” is the tagline of this public institution in Seattle, and the university certainly is committed to providing that opportunity. Nearly a third of incoming freshmen at UW are the first in their family to attend college. The school also actively supports the educational efforts of students affected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). And because learning about differences fosters understanding and critical thinking, UW’s curriculum contains a variety of interesting academic programs, including American Indian Studies, American Ethnic Studies, and Disability Studies.
If you still hold outdated notions of the typical student at a prestigious university being a white male, think again. African American, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander students make up more than half of this New Jersey school’s Class of 2025. And the women outnumber the men!
Furthermore, Rutgers feels its faculty should reflect its student body. To that end, this public institution recently launched a university-wide Presidential Faculty Diversity Initiative and committed up to $45 million dollars over five years. It’s all part of the university’s desire to create a “beloved community” in which all members are working together and are heard, respected, and valued.
Yes, it’s true that roughly three-fourths of the undergrads at this well-respected public school are state residents. But, when you draw from a state as diverse as California, you still achieve a culturally robust environment.
- For starters, 33% of undergrads are first-generation college students.
- Half of the undergraduate class receives need-based financial aid.
- Among students starting their freshman year in 2020, 33% are Asian and 21% Hispanic.
This mosaic of backgrounds helps UCLA maintain a culturally rich campus as vibrant as its host city, Los Angeles.
Drawing on research about developing new habits, UC San Diego created The Chancellor’s 21-Day Anti-Racism Challenge. Students, faculty, and alum are encouraged to complete the readings, videos, and podcasts to build effective social justice habits and think about individual, collective, and structural change. This creative initiative is just one example of how UC San Diego wants to create a more tolerant, aware community. And this passion for diverse experiences extends beyond campus. One out of three undergraduate students studies abroad, and many others participate in the school’s HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Exchange Program.
UC Davis often gets described as a Public Ivy because of the quality education it offers and the selectivity in choosing its students. But don’t worry about being a legacy or coming from a specific background. A third of Fall 2020 undergrads were recipients of Pell Grants, and roughly 30 percent of U.S. domestic students were from historically underrepresented groups. To better understand and nurture its diverse student body, UC Davis offers its faculty a variety of professional development opportunities where they learn about issues ranging from microaggression and unconscious bias to inclusive language and strategies to combat bullying.
For readers who have sensed a pattern, it should come as no surprise that a California school earned the top spot on our list. UCI takes pride in making world-class education available to all talented, hardworking students, regardless of background. The school knows, however, that enrollment is only a first step — students need the resources to see their journey through to graduation. Thus, UCI is particularly proud that 85% of its Pell Grant students graduate within six years, compared to 49% nationwide. The institution also has met U.S. Department of Education requirements to be designated a Hispanic-serving institution and as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institution. No wonder the New York Times has labeled UCI as “the #1 university doing the most for the American Dream.”
Resources for Diverse Communities
Students interested in learning more about collegiate diversity and inclusion or looking for a supportive community along their academic journey may find the following resources helpful:
- The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
- Black Campus Ministries
- International Student Organization (ISO)
- The Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals
- National Center for College Students with Disabilities