Diversity is essential for Towson University

When I was named president of Towson University two years ago, building a more diverse and inclusive campus became one of my first presidential priorities.

I was dean of the College of Business at the University of Michigan Dearborn when the university defended the use of affirmative action in its admissions policies before the U.S. Supreme Court. Their rigorous and evidence-based argument showed that the best possible education is one in which diverse viewpoints provide a fuller, more multi-dimensional experience for all students.

During my 20 years of experience in higher education and 20 years of experience as a corporate leader and entrepreneur, I learned that inclusion is a prerequisite for diversity. That is why we have worked hard at TU — with no additional funding — to improve our campus climate through new programming, policies and processes that support an inclusive classroom and campus. We are seeing positive results from this work (“Can UMD fix its diversity problem by raising tuition?” Jan. 29).

I am proud that our minority enrollment rates have grown during my tenure here, with more than 44 percent of first-time, full-time students in TU’s fall 2017 class identifying as racial or ethnic minorities, and 22 percent as African American. While we continue to strive for a student population that reflects the diversity of Maryland’s high school graduates, we must also focus on providing the students who are already here with equal opportunities for success.

In higher education, we often measure success in six-year graduation rates, which reflect the percentage of students who earn degrees within six years of first enrolling. Our most recent data shows there was no difference between minority and overall six-year graduation rates — both are 72 percent. Our African-American graduation rate is 74 percent. That’s higher than our overall graduation rate and the latest national average, which is 40 percent. This is a point of distinction and pride for our students, faculty and administration.

Towson University recently concluded a market research study that makes a business case for diversity — if it even needs one. The prospective undergraduate students we surveyed saw the diversity of a campus as a leading factor in their decision about which university to attend. Their instinct is supported by business sense. In a global economy, attracting, retaining and developing talent is the key to any organization’s success. Students who graduate knowing how to thrive in an inclusive environment are better prepared to lead and possess a competitive advantage as they enter the world of work.

Diversity is essential for social justice, an imperative for a high quality university education, and — as the percentages of high school graduates are increasingly students of color — a favorable business model. That includes diversity of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status and levels of ableness. In business, the general rule is, when you think you can’t afford to do something, it’s more likely that you can’t afford not to do it.

Kim Schatzel, Towson

The writer is president of Towson University.

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