Does student-faculty similarity improve graduation outcomes?

As has been the case with past data blogs, many of the conversations occurring in higher education are focused on the concepts associated with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Universities, systems, and state boards of higher education are grappling with the implications of DEI, especially in terms of identifying equity gaps in enrollment, persistence, and graduation, and plotting a course of action to continue closing those gaps. One such line of inquiry that has come to the forefront has been whether gaps exist between student and faculty demographic representation on campus. We briefly explored this concept in an earlier blog post, finding that, in general at Texas public universities, female faculty identified as Asian, African American, or Hispanic/Latinx are underrepresented when compared with the proportion of students in the same demographic group, as are male faculty identified as African American or Hispanic/Latinx. As an extension to the previous analysis, we now return to this concept of student-faculty representation in this blog post, which will start a series of posts that will attempt to answer the following question: Does closing the representation gap promote increased student outcomes for historically underrepresented minority students?

Measuring Demographic Similarities: Location Quotient (LQ)

Previously described in other blog posts, we are calculating the location quotient (LQ) that allows comparison across demographic groups within different grouping variables. 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:

  • LQ score = 1.0: faculty’s concentration is very similar to the student’s concentration.
  • LQ score > 1.0: faculty over-represented when compared to student’s concentration.
  • LQ score < 1.0: faculty under-represented when compared to student’s concentration.

The visualization to the right shows the average LQ score for each race/ethnicity category by Carnegie Classification for all public universities in the United States. The data show that White faculty are over-represented, while Black or African American faculty and Hispanic or Latinx faculty are under-represented across all three Carnegie Classification groups.

Is there a correlation between level of representation and graduation rates?

While we’ve established that there are gaps in level of representation for historically underrepresented student populations at public universities in the U.S., the question remains as to whether larger gaps (as indicated by lower LQ scores) lead to worse 6-year graduation rates for Black or African American and Hispanic or Latinx students. In the visualizations below, we show institution-level data for LQ Score (x-axis) and 6-Year Graduation Rate (y-axis) for all public universities in the IPEDS dataset. The first visualization shows data for Black or African American students and faculty, and the second one is for Hispanic or Latinx students and faculty. The size of each circle is based on the total undergraduate enrollment in fall 2019, while the color-coding scheme is associated with the six public university systems in Texas, the group of public independent universities in Texas, and out-of-state universities (light gray). The vertical line at the 1.00 mark on the x-axis shows where there is a perfect match between demographic representation of students and faculty. The line running left-to-right across the scatterplot shows the relationship between the two variables of interest: LQ Score and Graduation Rate.

Black or African American Students and Faculty: First Tab

  • The first thing that is readily apparent is that higher representation of Black or African American faculty when compared to student representation on campus is positively correlated with higher graduation rates for Black or African American students.
  • Texas A&M University is the only 4-year public university in Texas that has an LQ Score greater than 1.0.
  • Approximately 88-percent of the almost 600 public universities with data in the IPEDS database have an LQ Score for Black or African Americans that is below 1.0. 
  • The average 6-year graduation rate for African American students in the data was 48.1%, which trails Hispanic or Latinx students (53.8%) and White students (60.5%).

Hispanic or Latinx Students and Faculty: Second Tab

  • In contrast to Black or African American students, there is a negative correlation between higher representation of Hispanic or Latinx faculty and graduation rates for Hispanic or Latinx students in the IPEDS data.
  • Over 92-percent of the public universities in the IPEDS dataset have an LQ Score for Hispanic or Latinx faculty-to-student representation that is below 1.0.
  • The average 6-year graduation rate for Hispanic or Latinx students is 53.8%, which is higher than African American students (48.1%), but lower than White students (60.5%).

NOTES: Due to some of the restrictions within the IPEDS data, not all institutions have data for either graduation rates or LQ scores and may be missing in the visualizations below.

So What?

The data shown above create as many questions as they provide answers.

  • Why is there a different trendline direction for African Americans (positive) and Hispanic/Latinx (negative) when regressing graduation rate by LQ Score?
  • Given that all of the universities are shown together, are there group-level differences based on institution type (Carnegie Classification)?
  • What other factors might help us understand why differences exist between race/ethnicity groups and/or across institutions (e.g., institutional size, location, mission, students’ college readiness, cost of attendance, funding, etc.)?
Answers to these questions and others will guide the next few blog posts as we explore these data further.

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