College Guide


February 19, 2013 6:53 PM Why Diversity Matters

By Daniel Luzer

In much of the legal discussion about affirmative action, proponents of the policy argue that diversity is beneficial because it helps to promote a robust discussion in an academic setting. People from different backgrounds provoke interesting conversations and new perspectives. This argument, while valid, is a little vague. Well sure people form different backgrounds have different things to say, but are the discussions really a lot better? How could we ever demonstrate this?

Proponents might now have a better way to talk about the importance of diversity. Research now indicates that attending a college with more diversity actually results in (slightly) higher earnings later on. According to a paper by Barbara Wolfe and Jason Fletcher:

We… ask whether attending a college/university with a more diverse student body influences a variety of outcomes…. including years of schooling completed, earnings, family income, composition of friends, and probability of voting. Our results provide evidence of a positive link between attending a college with greater diversity and higher earnings and family income, but not with more schooling or the probability of voting.

Researchers survey data when the subjects were in high school, college and then again eight years after high school, in order to gauge the impact of attending diverse colleges.

The report, it’s worth pointing out, doesn’t exactly provide us with mind-blowing information, but it is significant. It indicates that attending a more diverse college “is expected to increase earnings by about $1900 or slightly more than 5 percent.“ In addition, the report indicates that attending a more diverse college makes white students more likely to have a diverse set of friends as adults.

Hispanics, oddly enough, appear to have a less diverse set of friends as adults when they attend college with greater levels of ethnic diversity.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 20, 2013 6:14 PM:

    Nice to know, but I believe there's been a ton of quant higher ed research finding measurable educational benefits to diversity. The lead here makes it sound as though that research didn't exist until now.

    Indeed, wasn't Grutter v. Bollinger largely determined based on that research? My understanding (directly from some folks at U-M at the time) was that the university intentionally avoided arguing on the benefits of educational equity per se, because they felt it was easier to make the case that student outcomes benefit in measurable ways from diversity.