Increasing Community College Workforce Diversity: Evidence from Evaluating Professional Learning Opportunities

 

College enrollments have become more diverse as the number and share of students from underrepresented backgrounds attending college continues to increase, particularly in broad access postsecondary institutions. In terms of student body diversity, the California Community Colleges (CCC), for example, are one of the most diverse systems of higher education in the nation, and along with the California State University system, have demographics that roughly mirror those of the state’s graduating high school seniors. We know that students benefit when their mentors, advisors, instructors, and deans broadly reflect their own backgrounds and experiences, but we also know that the diversity of postsecondary administrators, faculty and staff lags well behind the diversity of college enrollments. This trend, according to Dr. J. Luke Wood, has “direct implications for student advising, same-race role models, mentorship, cultural relevance and, ultimately, student success.” The good news is that CCCs have a unique opportunity to increase the diversity of their workforce over the next several years, as large numbers of personnel are reaching retirement age according to data from the CCC Chancellor’s Office Data Mart. As this window opens, how can colleges reflect on and adjust their recruiting, hiring and retention practices, so that the diversity of their faculty, staff, and administrators better reflects the diversity of their students?

CCC Aggregate Faculty and Staff Ages, Fall 2018

Source: California Community Colleges Chancellor's Data Mart, Report Run: 7/23/2019 1:24:36 PM

The CCC Chancellor’s Office is encouraging the community colleges to diversify the ranks of their faculty, staff, and administrators by investing in a range of professional development (PD) activities. These activities seek to provide college personnel with a better understanding of the roles they play in contributing to the larger goal of building diversity, for example through participating in hiring searches and contributing to an inclusive campus environment.

The CCC Chancellor’s Office further established the Vision for Success Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce in late 2018 to address faculty diversity and provide a set of recommendations on statewide structural changes, including policies, practices, and tools that the CCCs will need to improve Equal Employment Opportunties (EEO) implementation and the recruitment and retention of faculty and staff.  The Taskforce will present recommendations to the Board of Governors at their September meeting in Riverside.

As a research associate at EdInsights, I’ve spent nearly two years evaluating PD events in the CCC, including workshops and a summit focused specifically on building diversity in the community college workforce. Through these events, which are part of the Chancellor’s Office’s Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI), my colleagues and I surveyed 552 community college personnel, most of whom were members of cross-functional teams from their college.

The following key themes emerged from surveys submitted by participants at these events. Community college personnel:

Support Hiring and Retaining a Diverse College Workforce

Our findings show, respondents agreed about the positive effects on students in having a more diverse college workforce, and noted that the PD offerings provided them with some tools and information to contribute to this goal. Respondents further reported that, based on these events,  they planned to take actions back on their campus to improve the diversity of their college’s workforce, including taking a more active role in the hiring process and brainstorming about how to improve the retention of existing faculty and staff. For example, they planned to examine their own institutional processes (i.e., recruitment, hiring, and retention practices) and share information or strategies (i.e., data analysis tools, and mentorship programs) and facilitate conversations with campus colleagues about building diversity. Through these actions, they hoped to create a more inclusive campus environment; support diversity among students, faculty, and staff; reduce student equity gaps; and improve student outcomes.

Are Aware of the Challenges of Recruiting and/or Retaining a Diverse Workforce

Despite their willingness to play a more active role back on their campuses, respondents anticipated facing several challenges. The most frequently cited issues they reported involved setting aside sufficient time to be involved in hiring; gaining support from campus colleagues to change existing hiring processes, policies and procedures; the significant and complex lift to change institutional policies and practices with regard to retaining a diverse workforce; and sustaining or scaling up existing efforts to recruit, hire and retain a diverse workforce. Participants overwhelmingly appreciated opportunities to gain professional development skills that support them in hiring and retaining a diverse workforce and saw it as highly important, but many walked away with questions about how to reach these workforce diversity goals back on campus. For example, people had questions about data gathering and data sharing needed to identify diversity gaps; requirements associated with the hiring process; and ways to engage various campus stakeholders and hiring committees to improve recruitment, application, and interview processes. They also wanted more specifics about ways to contribute from their current role in the institution. Many participants wanted more discussion and information about the challenges that faculty and staff from underrepresented backgrounds face on campus, and how to address those issues, so as to improve retention. Some noted that this work is possible only when the leaders at their campus make the provision of such information and opportunities to discuss it a priority.

Request Additional Professional Development to Hire and Retain a Diverse Workforce

People reported needing opportunities to discuss and learn about effective practices that can support a diverse workforce. This includes sharing pertinent information and strategies associated with all aspects of recruitment, hiring, and retention. Participants said they left the IEPI events motivated and inspired, and they wanted more events like these to connect and share practices, lessons, and experiences around a common issue. But they also voiced a need for concrete examples of how to engage in this specific work back on campus, given the limits and opportunities of their own roles. For example, they requested additional workshops and trainings on various issues related to building a diverse workforce, additional opportunities to learn from peers to learn about the strategies being done at other campuses, concrete tools and resources, and targeted support for specific job functions.

The next challenge is going back to their colleges to implement ideas learned from the PD events. PD for current community college employees can be an important part of those strategies and can have an even greater impact when it is encouraged by top leadership as a way for campuses to reach their goals of increasing diversity among faculty, staff and administrators. With the increasing number of administrators, faculty and staff reaching retirement age over the next few years, now is time for colleges and universities to develop strategies to diversify and then retain their workforce.