It ' s Time to GET REAL about Graduate Enrollment Inequities

by Maggie Sikora

Having worked for a variety of higher education institutions over the course of the past decade, it is very concerning to me that each institution’s hope of attaining more racial diversity is not necessarily translating into any drastic changes in enrollment. Currently, enrollment in higher education is not reflective of our increasingly diverse society, but rather is representative of an overtly White, post-secondary environment. My experience and research has indicated that practitioners—administrators, faculty, and staff—have a considerable stake in helping to change the racial landscape of higher education so that equitable enrollments can be achieved for our underrepresented populations.

Since joining the EdD program in 2014, my work as a student has led me to a variety of opportunities to directly apply my research to my practice, which is serving as the director of admissions and enrollment services for the University of Pittsburgh School of Education (SOE). Because my current role in admissions is primarily within the graduate sector, both my work as a professional and as a student focuses on enrollment issues within this space of higher education. The research that I am focusing on for my EdD is particularly concerned with the graduate enrollment inequities surrounding Black and Latina/o populations.

Figure 1. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau (2015); Allum & Okahana (2015)

Figure 1 situates the problem of inequitable enrollments in graduate education by comparing the current U.S. Census (2015) population data to the current graduate enrollment data. Such statistics indicate that, in comparison to their broader representation across the U.S., White students are relatively equally represented in graduate school. On the contrary, Black Americans are underrepresented in graduate school, and Latina/o students are grossly underrepresented within the graduate space.

While figure 1 portrays the issue of inequitable enrollments for Black and Latina/o graduate students on a national scale, efforts to explore the problem and to what extent it may be manifesting itself within the context of my professional workplace will be the focal point of my applied research for the EdD program. Fortunately, I have had the full support of my academic advisor, Assistant Professor Gina Garcia, as well as that of key leadership, namely Renée and Richard Goldman Dean Alan Lesgold and Director of Administration Marianne Budziszewski, to explore this issue and, importantly, how to work to alleviate it within the School of Education. As a result, an inclusive team of faculty, staff, and current students has been formed and will be working to address, create awareness, and offer resolutions for the issue of inequitable enrollments within the school.

Members serving on the GET REAL Committee are as follows:

  • Thomas Akiva, Assistant Professor, Applied Developmental Psychology
  • Marianne Budziszewski, Director of Administration
  • Monique Davis, Assistant Director of Admissions and Enrollment Services
  • Gina Garcia, Assistant Professor, Administrative and Policy Studies
  • Linda Kucan, Associate Professor, Instruction and Learning
  • Jerry Longo, Clinical Associate Professor, Administrative and Policy Studies
  • Ira Murray, PhD Student, Administrative and Policy Studies
  • Jenesis Ramirez, PhD Student, Administrative and Policy Studies
  • Renee Rogers, Assistant Professor, Health and Physical Activity
  • Jennifer Russell, Associate Professor, Learning Sciences and Policy
  • Fiona Seels, Systems Administrator
  • Michelle Sobolak, Co-Director of Teacher Education, Instruction and Learning

The team, called GET REAL: Graduate Enrollment Targets Realized via Equity-Minded* Approaches and Leadership, will be meeting throughout 2016 and engaging in courageous conversations surrounding the sensitive topics of race and equity. More specifically, GET REAL will be dissecting institutional data in direct relation to efforts surrounding recruitment and access for its Black and Latina/o populations, ultimately making informed recommendations based upon their findings.

Because widespread practitioner involvement is critical to alleviating the issue at hand, the GET REAL team looks forward to eventually involving the greater School of Education community in our efforts to attain more equitable enrollments within the SOE—so please, stay tuned and plan to join us!

*The term of equity-mindedness has been defined by Bensimon as follows:“Equity-minded individuals are more cognizant that exclusionary practices, institutional racism, and power asymmetries impact opportunities and outcomes for Black and Latina/o students. Equity-minded individuals attribute unequal outcomes among Black and Latina/o students to institution-based dysfunctions, while deficit-minded individuals construe unequal outcomes as originating from student characteristics. Thus, equity-minded individuals reflect on their own and their colleagues’ role in and responsibility for student success.

For additional information, please see the following:

  • Allum, J., & Okahana, H. (2015). Graduate enrollment and degrees: 2004 to 2014. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.
  • Bensimon, E.M. (2007). The underestimated significance of practitioner knowledge in the scholarship on student success. The Review of Higher Education, 30(4), 441-469.
  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2015, June 8). State & County QuickFacts: USA. Retrieved July 2, 2015 from

MAGGIE SIKORA is director of admission and enrollment services at the School of Education, as well as a higher education management student in the EdD program.