Diversity and Leadership: A Study of High-Achieving Students of Color

Article excerpt

Leadership development has long been considered an important outcome of higher education, but the patterns of leadership development among students of color have not been widely studied. This article develops a theory of leadership as an outcome of engaged learning. Findings from this study of high-achieving, low-income students of color include: academic and social engagement were positively associated with holding leadership positions; compared to other minority groups, African Americans were more likely to be engaged academically and socially and to hold leadership positions as a consequence of engagement; and the amount of grant/scholarship aid was positively associated with holding leadership positions.

Leadership development is an important issue in most colleges and universities seeking to achieve the benefits of diversity. While the Supreme Court was not persuaded by arguments to maintain race-conscious admissions for undergraduates in Gratz et al. v. Bollinger et al. (2003), the topic of maintaining educational benefits for students of color remains compelling. In this context, colleges and universities should seek to create engaging learning environments for students of color that include leadership opportunities. Leadership engagement and moral development are also compelling interests within the community of scholars who study students of color (Snarey & Siddle Walker, 2004). Therefore, the notion of creating engaging environments for students of color is important not only as a standard for achieving enrollment diversity, but also as an aim of higher education and college student development.

This article uses national studies of high-achieving students of color developed by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a basis for examining student engagement and leadership among racially and ethnically diverse college students. These databases were developed as longitudinal surveys of applicants for the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) program. Three samples were taken mat consisted of both recipients and non-recipients. The surveys ask an extensive set of questions about student academic and social engagement. As background, the authors describe the logic models used to study engagement and leadership development among diverse college students.

BACKGROUND

Reconstructing Theories of Leadership and Student Engagement

The expansion of market forces in higher education - through privatization of public higher education and increased emphasis on student debt - has substantially complicated theory and research on college students. Until recently, research on student engagement and other topics including persistence (Tinto, 1993) has largely ignored the role of finances (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, a decline in the purchasing power of federal Pell Grants has accompanied the rise in tuition and debt (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2002). A widening gap in enrollment rates for African Americans and Hispanics has also occurred, at least, in part, because of these policies, and was one of the contributing forces in the widening of the opportunity gap after 1980 (St. John, 2003). It is apparent that the increased regulation of schools after 1985 also contributed to the decline in high school graduation rates in recent decades, but mere is little evidence mat diese policies influenced college enrollment rates (St. John, 2003, 2006). Therefore, mere is little reason to argue that school reform was a cause for or remedy to the disparities in enrollment opportunity in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the GMS program in 2000 as a means of enabling a new generation of high-achieving, low-income students of color to gain access to higher education, attain college degrees, and provide leadership in a diverse democratic society (Wilds, 2004). GMS provides a last-dollar grant covering all remaining college costs after other grants and expected family contributions, to 20 successive cohorts of undergraduate students. …