A comparison of faculty and student demographics at Texas public universities

Success of students in higher education can be attributed to many factors. Personal work ethic, academic preparation, effective learning environment, and support systems are just a few of the variables that promote student persistence and graduation from colleges and universities. Among higher education researchers, one of the underlying constructs that has risen to the surface as an element contributing to student success is a feeling or sense of belonging at the institution which the student attends. At its core, a sense of belonging is tied to whether a student can relate to others within the academic, social, and co-curricular communities on campus (Strayhorn, 2019).

One of the leading proponents of assessing students’ sense of belonging is the National Survey of Student Engagement, better known as NSSE. In the most recent NSSE survey, which was administered in spring 2020 to more than 270,000 first-year and senior students at over 500 degree-granting colleges and universities, three survey items were used to measure the degree to which students felt they belonged on their campus: 1) I feel comfortable being myself at this institution; 2) I feel valued by this institution; and, 3) I feel like part of the community at this institution. Students were asked to rate their agreement with each statement using the following scale: Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly disagree. Across institution types and respondents, NSSE’s research showed positive correlations between belongingness and student engagement/success: “This relationship is particularly strong for students’ quality interactions with others on campus, their sense of institutional support, and their perceived gains in learning and development attributable to their college experiences” (Building a Sense of Community for All). Further exploration of these data can be made using the NSSE 2020 Sense of Belonging dashboard.

So, why is an article about faculty and student demographics beginning with an introduction to the sense of belonging construct? I am glad you asked. In conversations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, one of the perspectives that is often discussed is how demographically similar the faculty are to the student body that they teach, advise, mentor, and tutor. While beyond the scope of this blog post, it is not too great a leap to think that students who see faculty who are more similar to them are more likely to experience a higher sense of belonging than when greater dissimilarities exist between faculty and students.

Location Quotient: Measuring Demographic Similarities

In order to compare faculty and student demographics, we will be using an analytical technique that quantifies the concentration of faculty by sex and race/ethnicity relative to the concentration of students by sex and race/ethnicity across the public universities in Texas. As opposed to simply taking the difference between percentages, calculating the location quotient (LQ) returns a standardized metric that allows comparison across demographic groups to determine the level of similarity between faculty and students. As a “ratio of ratios” metric, the LQ takes the percentage of faculty within a specific demographic as the numerator and uses the percentage of students in that same demographic as the denominator to calculate the LQ score. Interpreting the LQ score is relatively straightforward:

  • An LQ score of approximately 1.0 means that the faculty’s concentration in the demographic area is very similar to the student’s concentration in the same demographic area.
  • An LQ score greater than 1.0 means that the faculty’s concentration in the demographic area is higher than the student’s concentration in the same demographic area (over-representation).
  • An LQ score lower than 1.0 means that the faculty’s concentration in the demographic area is lower than the student’s concentration in the same demographic area (under-representation).

The visualizations below are a series of progressively more complex views of demographic comparisons of interest. All data were pulled from the THECB Accountability System’s Interactive data portal. The most recent data for faculty was from fall 2018, as enrollment data from that same semester were used for consistency in comparisons. Because faculty and student demographic patterns are typically stable over a short period of time, a single-year snapshot view provides an accurate depiction of the current trends. Only students classified as undergraduates were used as the comparison group, while all instructional staff (excluding teaching assistants) as defined by the THECB were included in this analysis.

A reference line at the 1.0 LQ score mark is included in each of the visualizations to indicate where identicality between faculty and student demographics would occur. Tooltips with additional contextualized information can be accessed by hovering over each bar using a mouse or by clicking on the bar using a touch-based interface. 


Statewide Female/Male Comparisons

The first panel view shows that male faculty are over-represented by a factor of 1.18 when compared to the concentration of male students enrolled in public universities across Texas. While male students comprised 45.2% of undergraduate students in fall 2018, 53.5% of faculty were reported to THECB by universities as being male. Dividing 0.535 by 0.452 gives the LQ score of 1.18 that is shown at the end of the gray bar. It stands to reason that if male faculty are over-represented that female faculty will be under-represented, which the data show in the orange bar at the top of the visualization. The LQ score of 0.85 is below the 1.0 threshold, as 54.8% of students were reported as female in fall 2018, while 46.5% of faculty were reported as female. 

Statewide Race/Ethnicity Comparisons

Moving to the second panel shows statewide LQ scores by the race/ethnicity categories, as defined by THECB. Due to lower enrollment numbers in some of the categories (e.g., “American Indian or Alaska Native”, “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”, “Two or more races”, and “Unknown”), these categories were collapsed into a single “Other” category for both faculty and student calculations. By way of clarification, the “International” category includes all individuals who are not Americans, meaning that the “Asian” category includes Americans who identify as being of Asian descent. 

As can be seen in the bar chart, faculty are over-represented in four race/ethnicity categories (Asian, International, Other, and White) and under-represented in the two other categories (Black and Hispanic). The bottom row shows that White faculty members (62%) are over-represented by a factor of 1.71 when compared to the composition of White students (36.3%) in Texas public universities. The lowest LQ scores are in the Black and Hispanic categories. With an LQ score of 0.55, the percentage of Black faculty is approximately one-half that of Black students, as Black students comprised 12.2% of undergraduates enrolled, while university faculty who identified as Black accounted for 6.7% of the total faculty. In the Hispanic race/ethnicity category, the LQ score of 0.29 shows the greatest disparity between undergraduate enrollment and faculty, as Hispanic students accounted for 37.5% of undergraduate enrollment, while Hispanic faculty members accounted for 11% of faculty employed at Texas public universities in fall 2018.

Statewide Sex & Race/Ethnicity Comparisons

The last panel shows the LQ score comparisons by the combined sex and race/ethnicity categories. The Other category for both female and male categories has the highest LQ score, although this race/ethnicity category combined represents 6% of total faculty across the state. The combined category of White male faculty shows the second-largest discrepancy when compared to the White male undergraduate enrollment, as they are over-represented by a factor of 1.90 (32.4% versus 17.1%, respectively). The proportion of White female faculty members also exceeds the percentage of White female undergraduates enrolled by a factor of 1.54 (29.7% to 19.3%, respectively). The race/ethnicity categories with the lowest LQ scores are Black and Hispanic within both sexes. Black female faculty members comprised 3.9% of all faculty members in fall 2019, while Black female students made up 7.4% of undergraduate enrollment. Approximately 2.8% of faculty members were classified as Black males, while 4.8% of undergrads enrolled were Black males in fall 2018. Hispanic male students represented 16.1% of undergraduate enrollment, with Hispanic male faculty members representing 6% of all faculty. The lowest LQ score was Hispanic females at 0.23, as 21.4% of undergraduate students were classified as Hispanic females, while only 5% of faculty were classified as Hispanic females.

So what?

The increased scrutiny related to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education require examination of existing data to better understand the challenges facing colleges and universities. The comparison of faculty and students along sex and race/ethnicity lines is just one component of how the industry of higher education improves outcomes for students and faculty alike. Future blog posts will hopefully contribute to this ongoing conversation by providing data that contextualizes a variety of elements specifically related to these and other issues of concern within institutions of higher education in Texas and across the nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *