Diversity does not lead to conclusive educational benefits and may actually hinder the academic experience of college students, according to a study published in the spring 2003 edition of “The Public Interest.”
“The conclusion is that we don’t find that diversity improves the quality of education,” said Smith College emeritus Prof. Stanley Rothman, one of three professors who conducted the study. “The evidence for the advantages of diversity is weak … the case is not proven.”
George Mason University public policy Prof. Seymour Lipset and University of Toronto political science Prof. Neil Nevitte collaborated on the study, which surveyed more than 4,000 students, faculty and administrators at 140 colleges and universities across the nation.
The study hypothesized that students at more diverse campuses are more content with their education and overall college experience, but the results indicate that diversity leads to a decrease in student satisfaction, the three professors said in the published article.
“As the proportion of black students rose, student satisfaction with their university experience dropped, as did their assessments of the quality of their education and the work ethic of their peers,” the article states. “In addition, the higher the enrollment diversity, the more likely students were to say that they personally experienced discrimination.”
Rothman said the correlations are not very strong, but he said they prove the results of past studies that attempted to link diversity to educational benefits are not conclusive. The question of whether diversity benefits the entire student body is still open to debate, he said.
The results of the study were not included in legal briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the Center for Individual Rights, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in two lawsuits challenging the Unversity’s use of race as an admissions factor.
But CIR spokesman Curt Levey said the justices are aware of the study and can still take the results into account when they hear oral arguments for both cases April 1.
“This just points out how tenuous it is to base the constitutionality of race-based admissions on someone’s sociological study,” Levey said. “You can’t allow a set of statistics to overcome the constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination.”
Education Prof. Stephen Raudenbush said the study results are not relevant to the cases. While the results claim students are more dissatisfied at schools with higher proportions of blacks, many of these schools have never used race as an admissions factor, he said.
Many of the schools with higher proportions of black students are poorer and offer lower-quality educational programs than the schools that use race as an admissions factor, he said.
If the justices decide the study is relevant, its results will challenge a study conducted by University emeritus Prof. Patricia Gurin, which is cited in University legal briefs. Gurin claims that her study links diversity to specific educational benefits.
The three professors’ study asked students, faculty and administrators questions not directly related to diversity, such as their overall satisfaction with their school environment and educational experience.
Rothman said the surveys did not ask about respondents’ interactions with minorities and general feelings about diversity because respondents are more inclined to respond positively to such questions.
“People will say yes because they want to sound liberal,” he said. “Those questions don’t necessarily get at the truth.”
The surveys controlled for a variety of factors including student-faculty ratio, socio-economic status and individual demographic traits.