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How will the Economic Crisis Affect Campus Diversity?

The financial crisis has forced many lenders to stop making student loans and the endowments of even the wealthiest institutions have suffered. The Wall Street Journal cited a 22% drop in Harvard University”s endowment forcing tough decisions about spending. Many parents who have invested in 529 plans (tied to stock market returns) to fund college education are wondering how they will pay for college. Paradoxically, during the last recession, college enrollment actually increased overall (for whites and minorities) as many unemployed adults returned to school to increase their marketability in the workforce. However, the cost of college tuition has increased at much greater rate than household incomes. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the average cost of tuition and fees at a public university went from 23% of median lower-middle class family income in 1999 to 33% in 2007 (39%- 55% for low income families), leading some to speculate that only relatively affluent families will be able to afford college.

The financial crisis also has the potential to affect the diversity of faculty and staff. Several institutions, including Brown and Cornell have announced hiring freezes and some have had job cuts. Medical Center CEO, Dr. Berk has advised us that cuts in Medicaid and Medicare are likely and he has been working closely with senior leadership to identify cost cutting measures. Minorities often believe that they are the last hired and the first fired. How can we foster diversity despite the current economic climate?

Vivian Lewis
Faculty Diversity Officer
Associate Dean for Faculty Development- Women and Diversity
Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology

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