Pennsylvania state university system survey aims to gauge campus climate for students of color


Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities launched the first system-wide survey on Monday designed to show how welcoming their campuses are to students of color and other groups and how well they respond to complaints of bias. .

More than 70,000 students and more than 10,000 employees received emails asking them to complete one of four surveys, depending on whether they were faculty, students, staff or a union.

And they are encouraged to complete it. Some universities give students gift cards to places like Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks, while others give out T-shirts. West Chester, the largest school in the system, offers up to three $1,000 scholarships to students.

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“I am thrilled to share that we already have over 1,500 responses in a very short time,” said Denise Pearson, System Vice Chancellor and Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. .

A thousand of those responses came in the first two hours, she said.

Members of the system’s board of governors heard about the initiative when they met on Thursday. Also at the meeting, the board discussed developing a new funding formula to distribute the state aid the system receives among its 14 universities.

Some major universities have seen their funding plummet as the system directs more money to struggling schools. The new formula is expected to be largely enrollment-driven, although additional funds would go to schools with large numbers of students of color or first-generation students who may need additional support.

The system currently receives $477 million in public funds, or about 30% of its revenue. The new formula will not affect other funding, mainly tuition and room and board.

“The dollars have to go where the students are,” said Michael Driscoll, president of Indiana University in Pennsylvania, one of 14 systems in the system, who leads a committee to review the formula.

System officials expect to have a proposal to submit to the council in April.

The investigation is the latest step in the system to improve conditions on its campuses, especially for students of color, who have spoken out against racism. An August 2020 Spotlight PA investigation found that the system recruited more students of color for its campuses, but did not support them. While the percentage of students of color in the system had nearly doubled since 2008, their graduation rate was nearly 20 percentage points lower than that of white students, the survey found.

READ MORE: Condemn, argue, repeat: Students of color say Pennsylvania’s higher education system is following a tired formula for responding to racism instead of putting in place the supports they need.

Since then, the system has set several priorities, including adding more diversity to faculty and students, reducing achievement gaps between groups, and diversifying programs. The system also pledged to improve the climate on campus, which led to the investigation that lasted several months.

“We’re going to look for themes,” Pearson said. “We will look for ways to improve. We will look for areas that we can scale with best practices. »

In a state where about 14% of 18-24 year olds are black, 9.8% of students in the system, or 9,253, are black. An additional 5,872 students, or 6.2%, are Hispanic. The Hispanic share of 18-24 year olds statewide is nearly 11%.

Among the questions, students are asked how well their campus responds to reports of discrimination and harassment. It also aims to assess students’ sense of safety on and off campus. Faculty and staff were given some of the same questions and asked to categorize the level of racial and ethnic integration on campus at places like sporting events.

While the survey will produce system-wide data, it will also be disaggregated by campus and by racial and gender groups, Pearson said. Data on the experiences of LGBTQ students and staff and other groups is also sought.

The survey is anonymous.

The system plans to make parts of the results public, but not data on individual campuses, although some university presidents, who will receive reports on their campuses, may choose to release data, she said.


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