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CU-Boulder 1994 Community Survey:
Building Community Through Diversity

In fall 1994, Student Affairs Research Services (SARS, now part of ODA) surveyed CU-Boulder undergraduates about the campus climate for students of color. This Web page is the Executive Summary of a nearly 200-page report about the survey, its results, and related information from University student records. For more information, email ir@colorado.edu or phone (303) 492-3769.


Students of color--African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Chicano, Native American--cite the same reasons for attending the University of Colorado at Boulder as white students do: academic programs and reputation, location, people, and social and recreational activities. However, for many students of color the fit or match between the student and the campus is less successful than is typical for white students.

Comments and ratings collected in a fall 1994 survey from 329 undergraduate students of color and from 101 white students, along with information from official University student records, paint a picture of the situation for undergraduate students of color at CU-Boulder that is both heartening and disheartening.

In fall 1994, students of color represented about 15% of entering undergraduates at CU-Boulder. Roughly 40% (400 entering undergraduates per year) were Hispanic/Chicano. Another 40% were Asian Americans. About 14% (120) were African American, and 5-6% (50) were Native Americans.

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Survey results

Survey results are based on responses from 93-101 students per group (except Native Americans, with 42); response rates ranged from 65-75% for Asian Americans, Hispanics/Chicanos, and whites, to around 50% for African Americans and Native Americans. Survey questions included both check-off and open-comment formats. All open-ended comments were independently categorized by two individuals, and a multicultural survey advisory board oversaw all analysis and interpretation.

The survey findings present a mixed picture for students of color. On the one hand, students in the five groups are strikingly similar. They come here for the same reasons, hang out in the same places, and are comfortable and uncomfortable in the same settings. Display 1 shows an example of this similarity.

Display 1

Top 5 Reasons for 
       Recommending CU-Boulder to a Friend

In addition, a majority of every group are generally positive about the situation at CU-Boulder for themselves personally. For example, 75% or more of every group would recommend CU-Boulder to a friend considering college, 90% or more of every group have felt welcome at CU-Boulder, and the majority of every group report feeling welcome in most campus, academic, and community settings.

However, the findings also point to problems. Substantially lower numbers of students of color are positive about the situation at CU-Boulder for students in their racial/ethnic group than are positive about the situation for themselves personally, and many students of color report encountering bothersome stereotyping. As Display 2 shows, African Americans are clearly less satisfied than and most different from the other groups.

Display 2

Selected Survey Findings

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Differences within groups

There are great differences in attitudes and experiences within each group, as Display 3 illustrates. For example, the distributions show that a third of African Americans are as positive as most white students, while another third are more negative than all but about 10% of students in any other group.

Display 3

Variability Within Groups

Distributions from lowest to highest possible rating on composite measures of students' view of the situation at UCB for their racial/ethnic group and for themselves

Part of this within-group variability is related to the degree of importance students place on their racial/ethnic heritage. Within each group of color, students who say their racial/ethnic heritage is very important notice more stereotyping and hold more negative views of the situation at CU-Boulder for students in their group than students who say their heritage is less important. However, except for African Americans, these high-identity students are just as positive as other students about their own situation at CU-Boulder.

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Student Records Results

Records data also paint a mixed picture for students of color. On the positive side, the number of students of color entering CU-Boulder as undergraduates increased dramatically since 1986, from under 600 per year to almost 1,000 in 1994. Furthermore, seven-year graduation rates for students of color increased from 38% for those entering in 1980 and in 1981 to 52% for those entering in 1986 and 1987. In addition, the number of students of color receiving bachelors degrees increased steadily, from under 250 in FY86-87 to almost 500 in FY94-95--an increase of 110%. However, as Display 4 shows, students of color have weaker academic credentials (high school GPAs and test scores) at entry than do whites, and the graduation rate for students of color is still substantially lower than that of white students (67%). Furthermore, the graduation rate for students of color is lower than that for white students even when we take into account differences among groups in average academic credentials at entry.

Display 4

Selected Student Records Results

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Placing the Results in Context: Comparison with other surveys

The pattern of findings reported here is similar to that found in a spring 1990 CU-Boulder survey. For example, both surveys found that a majority of every group report feeling more positive than negative about their own situation and are comfortable on campus; students of color are less positive on some dimensions than are whites; and African Americans are least satisfied and least similar in attitudes to other groups. We cannot compare levels of satisfaction with those found in 1990 because of major changes in the questionnaire.

Our findings are also consistent with those from similar surveys at Colorado State, UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley, and the universities of Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Mexico. In particular, several studies have found that African Americans are least satisfied, report experiencing the most stereotyping, and most frequently mention the importance of having other students of color around in academic and social settings. In addition, graduation rates for the Big 8 and Big 10 combined show the same ordering as at CU-Boulder: Highest for whites, then Asian Americans, then Hispanics/Chicanos, and lowest for African Americans and Native Americans.

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Themes and Issues

From the survey findings and records results, plus conversations with student, staff, and faculty reviewers, we suggest ten themes and issues for those seeking to improve the situation to keep in mind. The CU-Boulder chancellor and vice-chancellors will be translating these into recommendations and actions in the coming months.

  1. On many dimensions there is more variability or diversity within racial/ethnic groups than there is across groups. Assuming that every student in a particular racial/ethnic group is the same is a prescription for failure. Worse, it risks offending some students by ignoring their personal characteristics beyond race or ethnicity.

  2. Programs for students of color must provide appropriate support without implying that all members of a particular racial/ethnic group need or want help.

  3. Virtually all University and community activities play a role in shaping students' sense of belonging at CU-Boulder. Everything is important, from courses and faculty to retail stores and restaurants, from student support programs to campus concerts and parties.

  4. Faculty, academic departments, and schools and colleges are just as important as outside-class personnel and activities in shaping the climate for students of color. Many students say they would welcome greater numbers of direct contacts from academic departments, and graduation rates are closely related to academic preparation and early academic outcomes at CU-Boulder.

  5. Being around other students "like me" is important to all students. For many students of color, "like me" most often means "from my racial/ethnic group," but for all students the concept extends to other groups as well, such as students who don't party, Christian students, or older students. This has at least two implications for actions for students of color:
    • First, sheer numbers are important.
    • Second, general University efforts to help students find and link with others with similar interests should be helpful in improving the situation for students of color.

  6. Structured, University-sponsored activities which encourage interaction and understanding across racial/ethnic groups can also help improve the situation for students of color. Students listed the residence halls' annual Global Jam as one successful example. They also listed over 100 different courses which in their view have enhanced understanding and regard among different racial/ethnic groups. Predominant among these are courses sponsored by the department of sociology and the Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America (CSERA).

  7. Many students are bothered by stereotyping. All students, faculty, staff, and administrators should be educated about what sorts of stereotyping are bothersome.

  8. The attitudes and CU-Boulder experiences of students in the several groups are so similar that improving the undergraduate experience for all students is likely to help students of color significantly.

  9. CU-Boulder could be a better place to be for students in all groups. However, African American students are, on average, clearly less comfortable and less satisfied than students in other racial/ethnic groups.

  10. The University, and the state, must squarely face the tangle of issues raised by several demographic, political, and attitudinal realities:
    • The number of high school graduates, and graduates of color, will increase significantly over the next ten years.
    • Academic preparation is a powerful predictor of success in college both for students of color and for whites.
    • Average preparation of high school graduates of color lags behind that of whites nationally, in Colorado, and for those entering CU-Boulder.
    • Many students, faculty, staff, community members, and state leaders maintain that the University should increase numbers of students of color.
    • Affirmative action programs are under attack nationally.
    • Had the University not used race/ethnicity as a factor in selecting its 1994 freshmen class, numbers of students of color would have been about 20% lower than they actually were.
    • Some students of color say that they are bothered when instructors and other students assume that they have received special treatment from the University, and that they have low academic ability or performance.
    • In suggesting what the University should do to improve the situation for all students, almost one-half of whites and Asian Americans, and one-fourth of students in other groups, say that the University does not need to do anything because the situation is OK now, or that the University cannot do anything to improve the situation by its own actions, or that the University should stop focusing so much on racial/ethnic issues.

We don't pretend to know the way through this tangle. Being part of an educational institution, however, we naturally feel that education is the key. This includes education of all students, faculty, staff, parents, and citizens as to

  • exactly how and why admission decisions are made,
  • how a diverse campus community benefits all students,
  • how a pool of highly educated, diverse citizens will benefit the state and nation, and
  • the importance of racial/ethnic understanding for Colorado's future workers and leaders.

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Final Thoughts

Although the situation for many students of color at CU-Boulder falls short of what it should be, it is nevertheless better than it is sometimes characterized. The University can be justifiably proud of the increases over the last decade in enrollment of and degrees awarded to students of color, but must acknowledge that considerable work remains before these students find a campus situation that is as good for them as it could be. We urge those seriously interested in understanding the climate for students of color, and in improving it, to attend to the many additional findings presented in the full report.

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l:\ir\survey\archive\comm\cm94\report Last updated: 6-22-99

Last revision 05/02/16

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