Study Highlights Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Public Health Education and the Importance of Faculty Diversity

July 20, 2023

Study Highlights Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Public Health Education and the Importance of Faculty Diversity

WASHINGTON (July 20, 2023) -- A new study conducted by researchers at the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at the George Washington University (GW) Milken Institute School of Public Health, and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) identifies institutional characteristics associated with public health student diversity, including faculty diversity. The research, covering a five-year time period from 2016-2020, shows that - despite an upward trend in diversity in the public health educational pipeline - minority students remain underrepresented.

The authors adapted an institutional-level Diversity Index (DI) previously developed by the Mullan Institute. The DI can be used to track the diversity of public health graduates at US institutions compared to the general age range of US residents, ages 20-35 (the general age range of public health graduates). This measure will help track progress and inform strategies for improving diversity in education for public health and the workforce.

"We found that the diversity of applicants to public health programs has improved, but diversity in enrollments continues to lag," the study authors stated. "Moreover, we observed that the diversity of the student cohort decreases with higher degree levels, with the highest diversity at the bachelor's degree level."

The study, which was funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration, suggests systemic barriers to higher education for minority students, such as financial burdens and lack of early exposure to public health sciences. To overcome these obstacles, the study authors recommend student-focused initiatives, such as information sessions on the application process, financial aid assistance, and the provision of grants, scholarships, and resources for underrepresented minority students. The recent Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and UNC will affect some diversity actions taken by institutions.

The research also uncovers a direct relationship between faculty and student diversity. "Schools and programs invested in faculty diversity are also invested in student diversity," the authors noted, highlighting the necessity for universities and colleges to focus on recruiting and retaining diverse faculties.

While the researchers' primary measure of diversity was ethnicity and race, they underscore the importance of a broader, more holistic view of diversity. They call for future research to consider intersectionality, investigating how critical factors like income and class intersect with ethnicity and race. This broader perspective could lead to a deeper understanding of what drives student diversity and how to effectively address systemic root causes that hamper diversity.

“A diverse student body is integral to the higher education experience in the United States given that students gain education not only in the classroom but also by interacting with a wide spectrum of fellow students,” the researchers note. Ultimately, the researchers say, more diverse graduates could lead to a more representative workforce that is better able to serve diverse populations.

The study, Diversity of the US Public Health Workforce Pipeline (2016-2020): Role of Academic Institutions was published July 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The research was supported by the Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW), National Center for Health Workforce Analysis (NCHWA), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $450,000, with zero percent financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author[s] and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.