Diversity Messages Affect Academic Confidence

Universities that embrace different socioeconomic backgrounds will nurture diverse students with greater academic achievements and expectations.

Universities that embrace different socioeconomic backgrounds will nurture diverse students with greater academic achievements and expectations.

Researchers from Northwestern University conducted 3 experiments to see how university messages affected students with lower socioeconomic status.

In their first 2 experiments, the researchers found that a school’s “warmth” toward diversity in backgrounds led to greater student achievements than when the institution exhibited “chilly” cues.

One example of a warm attitude toward students with lower socioeconomic status was a statement about the university’s opportunities for financial aid and work-study programs. A lukewarm message would be the university saying how much it benefitted from rich alumni.

The third experiment found that universities that made efforts to embrace diversity led lower socioeconomic students to see their background not so differently than the rest of the student body.

The way schools handle issues such as financial resources, tuition, and admissions are a few examples of where this issue would come up.

“While providing adequate financial resources is unquestionably important, our work suggests that the way such policies are presented can have important implications for these students’ psychological outcomes at college,” stated lead study author Alexander Browman, a doctoral student in psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, in a press release.

These study findings suggest that universities could have a higher-achieving study body if they strive to encompass more diverse backgrounds.

“Efforts to find more support for low-SES [socioeconomic status] students are invaluable,” Browman added in the press release. “But schools also need to consider how the language they use in their messages can affect students.”

Recently, New York University was criticized for the way an administrator responded to a student interested in Tisch School's Art & Public Policy master's program.

The student asked if it were possible to have the application fee waived, and the administrator responded by suggesting the student could not afford the program and should take a year off to look for ways to pay for education.

@NYUTischSchool PLEASE EXPLAIN pic.twitter.com/pFQTXzSFip

— Joshua Jackson (@JoshuaKJackson) December 19, 2015

.@JoshuaKJackson We sincerely apologize for the way your request for a fee waiver was handled. Check your email for a message from the dean.

— NYU Tisch School (@NYUTischSchool) December 19, 2015