A recent Education Lab blog post asked a provocative question, “Is teacher diversity a problem in Washington?” Often times the discourse on education is locked into discussions and debates that focus on K-12 and four-year colleges and universities. Surprisingly, community colleges are often omitted or marginalized within dialogues about the state and national educational system.
However, community colleges play an important role in educating our most vulnerable student populations — students of color, first generation college students, undocumented students, and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. According to a report in the Harvard University press, more than six million students enroll at the 1,200 community colleges nationwide. More than half of African-American college students and two-thirds of Latino students are enrolled at community colleges. In comparison, elite colleges and universities in the U.S., such as Harvard, Columbia and Stanford, enroll only three percent of this undergraduate student population.
Community colleges enroll the highest number of students, offer multiple paths to further a students’ college education (associate of arts or science transfer degree), applied baccalaureate degrees, and education to career fields (professional/technical degrees and certificates).
Trends tell us that racial and ethnic diversity among student populations will continue to grow. However, while student diversity is increasing, the racial and ethnic diversity of faculty has not kept pace. According to 2013 Washington State Board for Community and Technical College report, 15 percent of full-time faculty and 12 percent of part-time faculty are people of color — Asian/Pacific Islander, African-American, Native American, and Hispanic.
Bellevue College is working to address this gap at a systemic level. Most recently the college has supported initiatives such as mandatory “Implicit Bias in the Selection Process” training for faculty and staff who wish to serve on hiring committees (400+ employees have participated in the training thus far), a required response to a diversity question for all applicants for full-time positions at the college, and a bargained pilot program for first-year tenure candidates about issues of educational equity.
Research indicates that racially and ethnically diverse faculty help prepare students for an increasingly global and diverse world, positively impacts students’ success, and that diverse institutions attract diverse students and employees. Bellevue College recognizes the value of diversity in higher education and is engaging in the challenging, and not always popular, work to enact change. I’m proud to work for this institution and with the unsung and unnamed faculty, staff and administrators, from all walks of life, who are committed to social justice and willing to do something about it.
In answer to the question, “Is teacher diversity a problem in Washington?” My response is to reframe that question and say “teacher diversity is critical to the success of all students, and a problem that can be addressed.”
Yoshiko Harden is the vice president for Diversity/Chief Diversity Officer at Bellevue College, where she provides leadership in the development, coordination and implementation of policies and programs that promote diversity and equity at Bellevue College.