Changing Student Demographics in Colleges and Universities


In 1980, 16 percent of American high school graduates were nonwhite; in 2000, the proportion rose to 25 percent, and the number for 2020 is forecast at 37 percent. This is a transformational change, with the proportion of “minorities” who enter American colleges and universities more than doubling in 40 years.

These changing demographics and increased diversity in higher education pose social and academic challenges to college and university administrators and professors. This study explored the effects of these demographic changes on college admissions, teaching and advising, living arrangements, and curricula. Over a period of five years, the Academy sponsored gatherings of leaders from more than 25 of America’s leading colleges and universities to discuss what higher education institutions have done, can do, and should do to “make the most of the good that can, and hopefully that will, come from this increasing racial and ethnic diversity on American campuses.”

In addition, Project Director Richard Light (Harvard University) visited an additional 40 campuses, where he met with academic and student leaders to further explore the most constructive ways to respond to these changes on campus.

This study was undertaken in the spirit that each campus faces both a set of challenges, and a set of opportunities. The challenges are that as students come from increasingly different and diverse backgrounds, campus leaders may not always know how to best serve these students’ needs. The opportunities are that if campuses can put into place policies that enable diversity among students to lead to a flourishing and constructive set of discussions, all students will benefit.

A resulting report summarized 12 specific findings and offered a set of policy recommendations that campus leaders may wish to consider.



Principal Investigator