The Harding University Diversity Committee will have its second meeting of the semester on Nov. 28, and will begin finalizing recommendations to the administration to increase campus diversity, according to university Executive Vice President David Collins.
The Diversity Committee was established in Spring 2016 as part of President Bruce McLarty’s strategic plan to increase campus diversity. Co-chair of the committee Tiffany Byers said the committee is made up of 12 members — six black members and six white members, three of whom are female and nine of whom are male. The members come from the College of Art and Design, the College of Bible and Ministry, the College of Education, the Kinesiology Department, the Career Center, the Graduate Counseling Program, Financial Aid Services, the Office of Admissions and Harding Academy.
Collins said the committee was formed in order to generate ideas on how to bring about more racial diversity on campus.
“We believe from scripture that we are all created in the image of God and that God made every nation of the human race,” Collins said. “I believe it is important, then, for us to be carrying out our mission in a context that is representative of our church constituency and society in which we live. We acknowledge that we are not there, particularly with regard to race.”
Part of McLarty’s plan is to increase enrollment of new students from underrepresented populations by 10 percent each year. According to Provost Marty Spears, Harding’s percentage of undergraduate minority students has only increased by 5.5 percent per year on average over the past four years.
In 2012, Harding’s undergraduate minority population was 9.3 percent; in 2013, 9.6 percent; in 2014, 10.2 percent; in 2015, 10.9 percent; and in 2016, 11.2 percent. Spears said that while these numbers are good for Harding, the administration will still work toward meeting its goal of increasing minority populations by 10 percent.
One way of meeting that goal, Spears said, is by continuing to recruit students from more diverse churches.
“People at different churches attend different things like different youth conferences and different activities, so you have to make sure you’re recruiting in all the right places,” Spears said.
Glenn Dillard, assistant vice president for Enrollment Management, said the admissions team has been working on recruiting in more diverse places. He said admissions’ recent focus has been on large churches that have a predominately black population. Dillard also said part of getting those students to visit Harding is by hosting large events that draw in prospective students.
“Hosting the Arkansas Youth Conference for the past 25 years or so, as well as hosting the National Youth Conference this past summer for the second time, brings to campus outstanding African American students,” Dillard said. “Getting prospective students to see our beautiful campus and meet our friendly students and staff in person is huge. We have found that the majority of the students who experience Harding in person want to enroll.”
Spears said that, since he took up his position as provost in June 2016, he has been looking into possible reasons as to why some enrolled students are not coming back. He said there is an Institutional Effectiveness Analyst who started looking at retention data in August to find any possible trends for why some populations of students are not returning after their first year.
“One of the things I’ve emphasized as provost is to really use our data to try to study and better understand ourselves so we can improve,” Spears said. “We’re hoping to learn a lot … If you can find out what problems are in that first year, you can help more students become more successful. That’s certainly true with minority students. If they don’t have the experience at Harding that keeps them here and allows them to succeed, we want to know why. We want to try to fix any problems we can.”
The details of McLarty’s plan can be found in the “President” section of Harding’s website. He will submit the plan to the Higher Learning Commission for review in January 2017.