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Competition Is Always About Results

Competition Is Always About Results

A few months ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of graduate and professional school administrators on the subject of diversity. During my remarks, I cited several statistics regarding enrollment and graduation trends of African American undergraduates. Many of the statistics I cited in my presentation came from Black Issues’ Top 100 report.
At the conclusion of my remarks, one administrator from a mid-sized southern university remarked that he feels it is unfair of the Top 100 to compare schools like his to larger institutions in other parts of the country. Indeed, one of the vexing aspects of the Top 100 for smaller schools is that they are ranked against larger institutions on the sole basis of graduation numbers, making it difficult for smaller institutions to land at the top of the rankings.
In response to the gentleman’s complaint, I encouraged him to assess his school’s positioning, both in numbers and percentage of graduates, against its  peer institutions of like size. While he nodded, I sensed that something else irked him. I speculate that what he really resented was being challenged to compete with other schools around the notion of producing graduates of color.
It is comforting to envisage a society in which students of all races could arrive at the doors of postsecondary institutions each with the same preparation and, subsequently, facing the same probability of degree completion and academic success within four years. Then, the correlation between race and access to opportunity would be less of an issue.
But that’s not the society we live in. Ours is one in which White students are not only more likely to be encouraged to attend college, they also are generally better prepared to succeed once they get there. To produce graduates of color in critical mass, therefore, usually requires a strategic effort. But, then this is also true if the goal is to produce a critical mass of geneticists. Or English professors. Or All-American Athletes.
No matter how you feel about rankings and lists, the fact is, in this society they are merely another manifestation of competition. When Black Issues began the Top 100 ranking eight years ago, we had no idea that it would grow into the hotly demanded resource it has become. There are two reasons we believe it is so invaluable: one, because Americans — and intellectuals in particular — are highly competitive; and two, because information is power.
Used properly, the data featured in this report can help institutions to approach their diversity objectives in a more strategic manner. Not only can schools gauge where they stand in comparison to other institutions, but they can use the data to identify schools that have achieved the type of success they would like to emulate.
In addition to the data, in this edition we’ve included a story that places these figures into national and global context (see Proportionally Flat, pg. 30) as well as one featuring examples of cooperative engineering programs that have yielded winning rankings for the participating schools (see Power, pg. 26). Unlike other more subjective rankings that have appear in other newsmagazines, our Top 100 is not a qualitative assessment, but rather a quantitative ranking. Our hope is that this information will inspire and enlighten our readers so that diversity become less of an abstract concept and more of a tangible, outcomes-oriented reality.
Last month, a new, world record was set in the 100-meter dash. I learned some of my best lessons about competition as a teenage track athlete. Here are some of my favorites: Competition matters. Everyone likes winners and losers rarely prosper. Seldom do those who fail to condition themselves to win, hit the finish line first. If you want to be a winner, study the other winners’ techniques. Strength and size don’t predict outcomes as well as preparation and heart. And — despite what they tell you — no one gets to the top without a strategy for success, and help from others in getting there.

Cheryl D. Fields, Executive Editor

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