Some trends in higher education move up and down—ebbing and flowing with the economy and demographic shifts. And then there are those that are stagnant, ever-present reminders of the work America’s universities still need to do.
One of those is the problem of faculty diversity: Less than 6 percent of full-time faculty members at institutions across the country are black. Many factors coalesce to bring about that dearth of black faculty, but one of the most significant is the perpetual scarcity of black doctoral-degree recipients.
From 2002 to 2017, of the roughly 50,000 people who earned Ph.D.s each year, the percentage who were black increased only modestly, from 5.1 percent to 5.4 percent, according to data from the National Science Foundation. In 2017, there were more than a dozen fields—largely subfields within science, technology, engineering, and math—in which not a single doctoral degree was awarded to a black person anywhere in the United States.
The lack of black doctoral students is due, in part, to a broken pipeline, and addressing the issue is a matter of getting more students interested in pursuing the credential. But pipeline problems don’t necessarily account for the number of black college graduates who don’t pursue, or are dissuaded from, higher degrees because of how those programs treat black people. “You hear a lot of horror stories from black faculty and black doctoral students,” Felecia Commodore, an assistant professor of higher education at Old Dominion University, told me.