Sometime in July, the number of Latinos in California became equal to the state’s non-Hispanic white population. It’s a remarkable demographic shift, and one that can be seen rippling through other state statistics.
For example: The number of Latino students in community colleges in California has skyrocketed nearly 19 percent in the past two decades, according to data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. The number of white students has fallen by about 21 percent.
Faculty demographics, on the other hand, haven’t seen the same kind of shift. Statewide, full-time professors remain largely white, with 65 percent representation in community colleges. Latino faculty are about 14 percent.
To Scott Lay, president of the nonprofit Community College League of California, that signals a disparity to be addressed – an issue he stressed in an email shared with the board of Monterey Peninsula College in July.
“The purpose of my message is to point out how dramatically different the colleges are today than 20 years ago,” he says in a phone interview.
While student populations can change quickly, faculty demographics tend to remain more steady because people are in career roles.
It isn’t that faculty and administrators aren’t doing a good job addressing student needs, Lay says. But with hundreds of full-time faculty expected to retire in the next decade, there’s room to change the makeup of colleges.
“You’ll have this huge opportunity to reshape institutions to better reflect and better serve the diverse communities that the colleges operate in,” he says.
At Monterey Peninsula College, 26 percent of the student body is Latino, compared with 11 percent of tenured faculty, according to the latest statistics. At Hartnell Community College, it’s 69 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
While hiring choices are ultimately made on qualifications, diversity is one consideration in the initial pool of applicants, according to Hartnell President Willard Lewallen.
“It’s important for our students to have role models, to have faculty and staff they can identify with in terms of background,” he says. “But at the same time, we don’t want to compromise in terms of quality.”
Because the student population is shifting, he adds, a more diverse crowd completes graduate programs ready to take on faculty positions.
But Lay says it could take some incentive and forward planning to get people interested in those jobs. Right now, he says, colleges aren’t getting an abundance of applications from diverse candidates.
Nineteen-year-old Celina Medina, a Hartnell nursing student who is Latina, says what matters to her is strong guidance. “As long as the teacher is good, they can be a role model in the way they teach,” she says. “It doesn’t have to do with the color of their skin.”