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Measured by whom we include, not exclude

The ASU Charter outside of Wrigley Hall at ASU

The ASU Charter contains very powerful language about principles of inclusion. For quite some time, universities have measured their excellence by their selectivity. In some of the most selective schools, this can translate into admitting less than 10 percent of applicants, who in many cases are very high achieving and accomplished students. National ranking systems use the selectivity measure as part of their ranking calculations.

The first line of ASU’s charter takes a different stance:

ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed

Commitment to this principle has produced remarkable achievements. ASU’s incoming class now reflects the demographics of the state of Arizona along all social, ethnic, and economic dimensions. In 1985, less than 2 percent of the students at ASU were from the bottom half of family incomes but now that figure is 50 percent. At the same time, graduation rates have vastly improved since the mid 1980s. ASU has held fast to accepting A and B students while undergoing the highest growth in research expenditures of any university in the country. The evidence shows that it is possible to educate a broad spectrum of society and be a research powerhouse at the same time. One does not have to come at the expense of the other.

Indeed, I believe the strategies are mutually reinforcing. Inclusion means, in part, not excluding the good ideas, experiences, and insights from a diverse cross section of society. For some time, business has recognized the value of the diversity dividend. Simply put, a diverse work force translates into increased profits and financial performance. Inclusion and diversity are important to the health of any organization.

A second and equally important reason for promoting diversity and inclusion is the ethical responsibility universities have to the public. Citizens of Arizona rightfully expect children of all family backgrounds to have the chance for an education. It is the right and fair thing to do. A college education remains the single best predictor–by far–of social mobility.  A college education prepares individuals for a fulfilling and meaningful life while contributing to the overall health and well being of the community.

Yet inclusion in college does not just happen. It requires vigilance. It requires all of us to make the effort to reach out, welcome, and listen to those who may feel that college is not for them. It means developing pathway programs for students in high schools that do not typically send students to college. It means inviting students to campus to demystify what it means to be a college student. It means creating an environment on college campuses (including online) where all people are respected and listened to with an open mind. It means that all are welcome. The future success of universities, and the societies they serve, depends on it.