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Release: Jan. 31, 2002

Coleman Among University, Business Leaders Endorsing Diversity

University of Iowa President Mary Sue Coleman was among some 37 university presidents and more than 30 business executives who, as members of the Business-Higher Education Forum, were signatories to a report that urged America to promote and "take advantage of racial and ethnic diversity" to avoid a social and economic crisis that threatens the future of the nation's workforce.

Coleman is a member of the forum's Diversity Initiative Task Force that began meeting in 1999 to "explore issues involving racial and ethnic diversity in the nation" and that produced the
52-page report titled, "Investing in People: Developing All of America's Talent on Campus and in the Workplace." Diversity is important in the workplace, according to the report, which counsels that as the nation's minority population increases, "members of racial and ethnic minority groups [will] continue to lag behind whites in educational attainment. If this trend continues, within only a few decades, the nation will face a shortage of educated and highly-skilled workers."

"The higher education and business communities have long been at work to make our college campuses and workforce more diverse," Coleman said. "A challenge for public universities now will be to further those efforts and to make sure that students of all ethnic backgrounds are prepared for the scientific, information technology, and technical jobs that await them after they earn their college degrees.

"Our nation's economic well-being and intellectual vitality depend on our universities being able to prepare students from a mix of ethnic backgrounds," she said.

The task force makes clear in its report that in terms of educational attainment, "while 28 percent of whites had completed at least four years of college in 2000, only 17 percent of African Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics had done so. By 2028 it is estimated that 19 million more jobs will be available than adequately trained workers to fill them. About 40 percent of the available workers will be from a racial or ethnic minority group."

The task force report calls for these six proactive steps:

• Strengthen and support outreach programs that help minority youth prepare for and succeed in college;

• Urge colleges and universities to consider a variety of factors when making admissions decisions;

• Provide additional resources to ensure teachers are prepared to teach students from diverse racial and ethnic groups;

• Encourage more funding from private sources to support diversity programs;

• Urge the federal and state governments to provide more need-based financial aid; increase the federal Pell grant award;

• Implement programs and better assess outcomes for elementary and secondary school students.

The report asserts that without these steps "the nation will face social and economic crises" precipitated by a lack of qualified minority workers, who, according to the 2000 U.S. Census cited in the report, will be led by an increasing population of Hispanics, followed by African-Americans, in terms of largest population growth between now and 2050. Of the estimated 281.4 million people that make up the nation's population, Hispanic Americans led the population growth rate at 58 percent, followed by Asian Americans at 50 percent and African Americans at 16 percent, while the non-Hispanic white population grew by 3.4 percent.

An electronic version of the report, released last month after a meeting of BHEF members, is viewable at http://www.bhef.com/