As Purdue has worked to increase its academic profile and develop a global mindset on and off campus, the diversity of the student population has been the focus of increased attention. Across campus, the term "diversity" carries many meanings. For the purposes of the All Students Committee's report, the term "diversity" refers to those dimensions of identity marking human difference, with special attention paid to those dimensions linked to disparate access to campus resources, varying perceptions of campus climate or significant differences in student success evidenced in retention, graduation and satisfaction rates. Primarily, the Committee's focus included those groups referred to as "subpopulations" in the Foundations of Excellence. These groups include:

  • Students whose ethnic/racial identities are underrepresented on our campus
  • Developmental students
  • First-generation students
  • Adult or non-traditional students
  • Commuter students
  • Students with physical, emotional or learning disabilities
  • Students who are not native speakers of English
  • Honors students
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) students
  • Students who are veterans of the Armed Forces
  • Students who are actively serving in the Armed Forces
  • International students

Additionally, the Committee considered students whose gender is underrepresented in their academic program and those whose socio-economic status resulted in an increased burden in covering the costs of a Purdue education, especially those who are entirely or mostly reliant on financial aid to cover these costs. While the Committee recognizes the likelihood that many students fall into more than one of the categories listed above, students in that position were not considered as a separate subpopulation.

Finally, the Committee acknowledges that students who are not represented in any of the above categories do not receive special consideration here. This reflects a belief that evidence from our review did not suggest that these students, as a group, suffer decreased access to existing campus resources, negative perceptions of campus climate or diminished likelihood for success at Purdue. Nevertheless, the Committee's concluding recommendations are likely to also have positive impacts on access, perception and success for those students.

A recurrent theme in the Committee's discussion was a concern that "one size fits all" solutions are becoming increasingly valued by the University. While the Committee applauds efforts to increase access to resources and to ensure that all institution-wide programs meet a standard of inclusive excellence, concerns were frequently repeated that programs tailored to meet the needs of specific subpopulations are often necessary and cannot be replaced by even the most inclusive institution-wide programs. This perspective relies heavily on existing research on implicit bias,[106] stereotype threat[107] and perceptions of campus climate.[108]

Implicit bias, a subset of implicit social cognition, refers to the unconscious associations people make that may reflect stereotypes or other discriminatory beliefs. Significant research has established the prevalence of such associations in terms of gender and ethnic/racial categories.[109]

Stereotype threat refers to feelings of anxiety in situations where one may confirm a stereotype. Some of this research has found that stereotype threat can have negative impacts on student performance.[110]

Many researchers have examined various methods of measuring campus climate through surveying student perceptions. Recent efforts have concluded that such assessments have great value in measuring the persistence of negative views of campus climate in terms of diversity.[111]

Scholarship in these areas suggests that, despite our best intentions, efforts to be inclusive often result in "colorblind" programs that implicitly ignore the unique needs and perspectives of various subpopulations.

As a Committee, we had hoped that the Foundations of Excellence Student Survey would inform our conclusions and recommendations, but ultimately found limited use for the data. According to our analysis, among the roughly 2,000 respondents who completed the survey there were no individual subpopulations whose responses varied significantly from the overall responses for any of the 23 Likert-scale questions determined to be relevant to the All Students Dimension. For this reason, data from the survey has not been included in our discussion.

Our review offers three characteristics indicative of the first-year experience at Purdue.

  1. The lack of a common academic experience
  2. A culture of self-identification
  3. The prevalence of threat and bias

Lack of Common Academic Experience

First-year students at Purdue do not share a common academic experience. While the Committee understands that the University's size, disciplinary diversity and governance structure are often selling points and that Purdue's commitment to being a land-grant institution often means admitting students with varying academic preparations, the committee identified concerns that the degree to which academic experiences vary might impact the institution's ability to effectively evaluate the first-year experience. The following examples serve as evidence for this characteristic.

Purdue's current admissions standards and practices evaluate and admit applicants based on their likelihood for success in given academic major programs. In addition, Purdue students come from a wide variety of secondary schools and cultures from around the world. As such, students' academic experiences vary before they are even accepted. Further, there is a perception among students, faculty and staff that admissions standards are vastly different from program to program. The Enrollment Management Planning Group is responsible for reviewing projections and approving targets related to enrollment. Additionally, academic deans (among other college and school administrators) meet annually with the Dean of Admissions to establish recruitment and admission expectations for individual programs. Finally, these differences are echoed by the variety of advising practices in various colleges and schools. The Transitions and Learning Dimensions discuss this subject in further detail.

Although STAR attempts to provide the incoming class with common transition, advising and registration experiences, several factors may mitigate the positive effects of those pre-matriculation activities. For STAR, the requirement that students attend on a weekday and the potential for travel and lodging costs are likely to make participation a greater burden for out-of-state students and/or students who are relying on financial aid to cover the costs of college. Currently, international students are not required to participate in STAR, since both costs and visa complications can be prohibitive. Among domestic students, more than 200 exemptions are granted each year to those for whom it would be a hardship to attend. Increasingly, incoming students may be able to complete some STAR-related activities online, though some requirements (such as obtaining a Purdue identification card) must wait until the student is on campus. Additionally, while students with disabilities are invited to participate in STAR, the inaccessibility of placement tests such as ALEKS (Math) makes equal participation unfeasible for students who utilize screen reading devices and software.

Similar financial and residency concerns may also affect participation in BGR. In addition to the $320 fee, participation in this program requires students to move to campus a full week prior to the start of classes, which may mean one less week to earn money prior to starting school. Moreover, even those students who are expecting financial aid are not likely to receive disbursements before registration fees are due, meaning that these costs must be paid out of pocket. Fee waivers are advertised through the website and brochure, but in alignment with the following discussion regarding self-identification, the burden rests on incoming students to apply. For these reasons, many domestic students may choose not to attend. Further, the Committee noted that international students generally participate in BGR at lower rates than their domestic peers. In 2011, approximately 36 percent of international students (13 percent of the total incoming class) attended BGR. Retention rates were higher for participating international students (92 percent versus 88 percent for non-participating international students).

Resources for academic support outside of the classroom fell into three categories that reflect implicit institution values.

  1. Academic resources that are available to all students and not specific to a course. These resources seem to be the most limited in number. In fact, only two resources were identified in this category—the Academic Success Center and the Online Writing Lab.
  2. Academic resources that are open to all students and tied to specific courses, most of which are 100- or 200-level service courses in the College of Science (also referred to as "fail-out" courses by students and as "gateway" courses by staff). These resources include Supplemental Instruction and a variety of departmental resource rooms. Though some of the departmental resources do offer free, one-on-one assistance, many of them are not open during the hours conducive to student needs. Supplemental Instruction, on the other hand, holds its sessions in the evenings, but does not offer one-on-one assistance.
  3. Resources that are not open to all students and not specific to a course. Almost all of the resources in this category require ongoing participation in a support program (e.g., Purdue Promise, HORIZONS and most Multicultural/Minority Programs). Such resources include separate sections of major courses, free tutoring and dedicated full-time staff.

While some programs provide exhaustive resources, networking opportunities, peer mentoring, tutoring and the attention of multiple full-time staff, other programs (such as multicultural minority programs) are under-resourced. Resources, both financial and human, vary across the board. The inconsistencies in reporting lines, number of staff and funding present challenges for the small programs that serve the non-majority student on a predominant campus. We feel that the existence of such programs allows students to identify with those who can assist them while providing a level of safety and inclusion that engenders confidence and growth. The procurement of funding for all student-focused programs on our campus varies widely due to state mandates, whether or not students pay a fee alongside tuition, the availability and securement of grants or program-specific fundraising. For some departments, funding issues are less problematic than in others, especially those that rely on grants or fundraising for operational expenses.

Culture of Self-Identification & Self-Advocacy

There is a perception that Purdue has a persistent "culture of self-identification and self-advocacy" that places responsibility on students to identify and address their own academic, social and personal needs. While this culture may not be inconsistent with existing privacy laws, University policies requiring self-disclosure and general efforts to avoid making assumptions, the Committee identified concerns that first-year students may not have the knowledge, confidence or interest necessary to effectively pursue self-advocacy. For example, with the exception of students participating in academic support programs, honors programs or intercollegiate athletics, most first-year students are not approached by faculty or staff members regarding their academic needs. Though new programs like Signals may change this, most students do not currently have access to timely assessments of their classroom performance in relation to the drop deadline for courses.

Despite efforts to provide an overview of campus during STAR and BGR, many first-year students remain unsure of the location of many important campus offices. Moreover, international students, first-generation students and domestic students of color have anecdotally reported a lack of confidence in approaching various campus resources as a result of less-than-positive experiences they or their friends have had in the past. Finally, student veterans (students who have served on active military duty) face many bureaucratic hurdles if they choose to take advantage of federal education subsidies made available to them, while students with disabilities experience varied but equally bureaucratic processes in order to receive appropriate accommodations.

Even when presented with institutional efforts aimed at educating and empowering, some students remain hesitant to identify and address their own needs. For example, the Disability Resource Center provides students with information and assistance in obtaining a variety of accommodations, in compliance with federal guidelines and University Policy, requiring instructors to make those accommodations. Nevertheless, some students express difficulty in communicating requests for accommodations to instructors. Additionally, some students may choose not to visit instructors during their office hours because of previous experiences with instructors who were not helpful. As case studies, these examples offer insights into the hesitancy with which Generation Y/Millennial students approach self- advocacy.[112]

Academic advisors and/or resident assistants may be best positioned to help students identify and address academic, social and personal needs. However, not all first-year students live in residence halls (roughly 10 percent of first-year students for fall 2011 did not live in residence halls) and even some of those who do may not have an opportunity to build strong relationships with their resident assistants due to location and apartment style living arrangements (e.g., Purdue Village or Hilltop). Further, because advising loads vary across colleges and schools, many advisors do not have time to develop the kinds of relationships with their students that would allow them to assist in this way (refer to discussions in the Transitions Dimension). Finally, as a result of varying perceptions of campus climate, students in certain subpopulations may be less likely to discuss academic or social/personal needs with either resident assistants or academic advisors, as discussed in the following section.

Prevalence of Threat & Bias

A review of various assessments indicated that perceptions of bias; discrimination; and physical, emotional and/or psychological threat are prevalent among several subpopulations at Purdue. The following examples serve as evidence for this characteristic.

Strikingly, African-American or Black students are half as likely to graduate in four years as their Caucasian or White peers. Second-year retention and six-year graduation rates suggest that Purdue's climate is not conducive to the ongoing academic and personal success of domestic students of color, including African American or Black students, Latino or Hispanic students and Native American or American Indian students. At Purdue West Lafayette—as is the case at most institutions of higher education—the challenge is more pronounced among males, as shown in the table below.

Table 6-1. Purdue-West Lafayette Four-Year Graduation Rates by Race and Gender.[113]

  Male Female
White 34.1% 50.6%
African American/Black 13.2% 27.0%
Hispanic/Latino 26.0% 32.9%
American Indian or Alaska Native 23.8% 33.3%

Recent diversity climate assessments concluded that approximately 40 percent of students reported experiences of being harassed or discriminated and approximately 50 percent of students reported witnessing discrimination or harassment on our campus. Additionally, students reported less comfort in interacting with someone of a different sexual orientation or someone with a disability.[114]

Among various subpopulations, the Committee concluded the least resources (proportionate to populations) were being provided to commuter students, students who are not native speakers of English, LGBTQ students, students who are on active duty in the military and male students who are underrepresented in their programs of study (e.g., Nursing, Veterinary Technology). For some subpopulations, a lack of any available resources may increase perceptions of threat or bias on campus.


Meaningful and lasting improvement related to issues of campus climate and the equitable access to resources among first-year students would require ongoing attention throughout the University structure. This includes a nuanced, student-centered approach to institutional review and the commitment of financial resources. The following recommendations are designed to offer a "broad strokes" view of a complex situation. As such, a preface to all recommendations is that further review is needed.

Simplistically stated, these recommendations are about providing the appropriate amount of options to our students. They point toward a Purdue that recognizes how unique our students can be while remaining as efficient and fiscally responsible as we can be. It's a vision of Purdue that avoids quick fixes, "one size fits all" approaches and surface-level commitments to diversity. Rather than attempt to be inclusive by requiring everyone to come together, the Committee feels that many members of various subpopulations on our campus find strength in numbers and achieve greater heights academically when supported by programs that resonate with their sense of cultural identity (e.g., Black Cultural Center, Women in Engineering Program, Native American Educational and Cultural Center, Latino Cultural Center). Rather than require students in all majors to take one diversity-related course, we suggest that multiculturalism be woven into the fabric of many courses and the diversity of faculty be considered paramount to developing a sense of inclusion among our first-year students.

If we are truly preparing all students for global leadership, we must begin by acknowledging the unique perspectives and experiences they bring to our campus.

  1. Reconcile existing disparities among support programs.
    • Many, if not all, academic support programs report increased retention rates and student satisfaction, including both those programs designed to serve specific subpopulations within specific academic disciplines and those programs serving larger, more diverse populations across a variety of academic disciplines. However, many of these programs face institutional barriers to growth resulting from limited resources (funding and staffing). Rather than suggesting consolidation, the Committee recommends that smaller support programs should be grown within colleges and schools (with funding from their respective colleges and schools).
    • Additionally, the institution should encourage and incentivize collaboration among academic support programs like concentrating, streamlining or standardizing resources. The Committee feels strongly that more specific support programs within colleges and schools allow services to be tailored to the needs of students, which can ultimately lead to increased student success. For example, rather than pulling academic resources geared toward first-year students into one central department, resources should be developed within colleges and schools and with academic programs in mind.
    • The Committee also identified the importance of ongoing assessments to evaluate and improve existing support programs. In cases where limited staff or resources might prevent these programs from performing and reporting their own self-assessments, potential recommendations might be either to centrally locate an assessment position under the Office of Diversity and Inclusion or to request that assessment efforts within colleges and schools be broadened to include support programs serving specific subpopulations.
    • We should also provide students with sufficient information and options regarding available support programs, ensuring that CODO students remain supported both financially and academically and developing new (or expanding existing) peer mentoring programs, as well as programs to serve the unique needs of students with disabilities, LGBTQ students and other subpopulations not currently served in this way.
  2. Remove barriers to transition and orientation programs
    • Increased access to fee-waivers and free housing, as well as strategic advertising of these options, would reduce the negative impact of economic constraints faced by families and students.
    • We must also address scheduling conflicts between these programs and other summer programming for incoming students (e.g., STEM Academic Boot Camp, Band and other program orientations), creating orientation program options that are tailored to the needs of individual sub-populations that could serve as an alternative to BGR. Develop methods for incoming students to access critical information after or in lieu of participating in these programs (e.g., an online repository of key presentations and handouts).
  3. Develop core curricula that reflect and affirm student diversity
    • As the University moves forward with the implementation of a core curriculum, a key consideration must be the extent to which common academic experiences reflect and affirm the growing diversity of the student body. Institutional efforts to educate about diversity take many forms, suggesting increasing buy-in among various departments and organizational units. Nevertheless, external studies on campus climate point to the critical importance of integrating diversity and inclusion into curricular settings, including, but not limited to, core curricula and seminar courses.
    • We should increase professional development funding sources for faculty and staff to sharpen skill sets related to diversity education, create funding opportunities for student organizations to offer programming related to diversity and inclusion and ramp up efforts to increase diversity among students, faculty and staff.

106. Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2002). Harvesting implicit group attitudes and beliefs from a demonstration website. Group Dynamics, 6(1), 101-115.

107. Steele, Claude M.; Aronson, Joshua (1995). "Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (5): 797-811.

108. Hurtado, S., Griffin, K. A., Arellano, L., & Cuellar, M. (2008). Assessing the value of climate assessments: Progress and future directions. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 1, 204 -221. (July 12, 2012)

109. See Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G., 2002.

110. See Steele, Claude M.; Aronson, Joshua, 1995.

111. See Hurtado, S., Griffin, K. A., Arellano, L., & Cuellar, M., 2008.

112. Most sources define this group as those born in 1982-2000; Elam, C, Stratton T., & Gibson D.D. (2007). Welcoming a new generation to college: the millennial students. Journal of College Admission. 95: 20-25. (July 12, 2012)

113. Source: Purdue Foundations of Excellence Task Force.

114. Diversity Assessment 2006–07: Executive Report. Purdue University Office of the Vice President for Human Relations. (accessed July 12, 2012)