Faculty Diversity in Higher Education

What is one thing that I believe should change in higher education? Faculty diversity. Now since I’m an engineer, I like to see the numbers. Let’s take a look at the current state of faculty diversity in higher education.

As shown below in the 2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), faculty positions, in total, are dominated (76%) by white males and females. This representation in part reflects the large, non-Hispanic white population in America. However, U.S. Census Bureau data has shown an increasingly diverse America (including 3% growths among the Asian population and people who identify as being two or more races). The universities of the future must embody this diversity.

Figure 1. 2016 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)


Interestingly, faculty positions, in total, have an about equal split of males and females as shown in Figure 1 (41% male and 35% female for white faculty). This initially came as a surprise to me, because it does not at all represent my personal experience. And then I realized, the NCES data includes all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions…from all disciplines. The data tells a different story in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines. For engineering specifically, only 16.9% of tenure/tenure-track faculty is female, according to the 2017 report from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Figure 2. 2017 report from the American Society for Engineering Education

That makes more sense to me. For my undergraduate coursework, out of the 18 Biomedical Engineering (BME) classes I took, only 2 were taught by women, and for general engineering only 4 out of 14 (2 math and 2 science, technology, and society classes). That’s astounding to me! Especially considering biomedical and environmental engineering, have the highest percentages of female faculty across all the engineering disciplines as shown below.

Figure 3. 2017 report from the American Society for Engineering Education

Another important consideration is the academic rank. As with many fields, there is a hierarchy among faculty in academia. This hierarchy generally followers the following ranks (highest to lowest):

  • Titles of Special Distinction
    • distinguished, endowed, or university professor
  • Tenure/Tenure-Track
    • (full) professor: tenured
    • associate professor
    • assistant professor
  • Non-Tenure-Track
    • research associate, lecturer, instructor, and visiting professor

Some other titles that don’t necessarily fight into this scheme are adjunct professors, clinical professors, professors of practice, and research professors.

As shown in Figure 1, the percentage of female full professors is even lower (11.8%), with higher female representation in the lower ranked (and subsequently, lower paid) associate and assistant professor positions. This disparity across senior (associate and full professors) and junior (assistant professors) is shown in STEM and non-STEM fields, according to a 2017 study.

So has faculty diversity improved over the years? Are we on an upward trend? Optimistically, I would say yes. As shown in Figure 4, the numbers are improving for women and minority faculty members, but we still have a long way to go.


In my view, enrolling (and retaining) female and minority students in engineering is key to creating a more diverse engineering faculty. From ASEE, the percentages of engineering degrees awarded to women hover around 20-25%:

  • Bachelor’s: 21.3%
  • Master’s: 25.7%
  • Doctorate: 23.5%

While these numbers represent a 2-3% increase compared to 2008 stats, we once again have a long way to go. And I believe it’s never too early to inspire the next generation of female engineers (check out Ladies in the Lab at UVA)!

I look forward to seeing gender and race/ethnicity diversification in higher education and remind us that we all have a part to play in inclusion.


One thought on “Faculty Diversity in Higher Education”

  1. I appreciate you come up with this. I was a CS student and we only had less than 5 female PhD students in the nearby labs where more than 20 male PhD students were studying. Being a member in minority is really lonely.


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