ADEA's Transforming Admissions: A Practical Guide to Fostering Student Diversity in Dental Schools

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ADEA Admissions Committee Workshop presentation (PDF)


How can we diversify the student bodies of our institutions to promote educational excellence and produce a workforce prepared to serve an increasingly diverse society? Ours is not the first generation to ask this question. Since the legal and judicial civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s, professional schools have been among those institutions that, in the words of former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, strived "to correct the effect of present and past discrimination" on members of minority groups. Their efforts initially met with considerable success, yet over the course of several decades they encountered an equal measure of opposition.

By the end of the 20th century, the first set of educational affirmative action initiatives lay battered and bruised yet partially intact. A series of Supreme Court decisions affirmed the legitimacy of diversity as an educational goal, and set a new, more nuanced course for achieving this objective. The current generation of health professions educators and their supporters has embraced the Court's guidance. Keenly aware of the health care challenges that lie ahead, they have committed themselves to developing new approaches to promoting diversity that meet the Court's standards.

In 2000, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in collaboration with The California Endowment and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, initiated the Pipeline, Professions, and Practice: Community-Based Dental Education program. Its complementary goals were to help dental schools improve access to dental care while increasing the enrollment of underrepresented minority (URM) students. Twenty-three schools participated, and over the program's four years, they saw their URM applicant pool grow by 77% and increased the number of first-year URM student enrollees by 54%. During the same period, the remaining U.S. dental schools saw their URM applicant pool increase even more, by 84%, but they lagged far behind in URM enrollments, raising the number of first-year URM student enrollees by only 16%.

This evidence made clear what forward-thinking admissions deans and others had long suspected-increasing the applicant pool was not sufficient for increasing diversity. It appeared that admissions committees themselves were one of the bottlenecks preventing URM students from entering dental schools.

Fortunately, the Pipeline program demonstrated that admissions committees that are ready to transform their policies and practices can achieve diversity in their student bodies. With support from the Pipeline program and from ADEA, the Association's Division of Educational Pathways subsequently developed an admissions committee workshop to disseminate promising admissions practices. Since 2005, nearly half of all U.S. dental schools have hosted the ADEA Admissions Committee Workshop. To ensure the continued dissemination of admissions practices that foster diversity, in May 2009 ADEA trained 10 admissions officers in conducting the workshop.

This online guide represents a further attempt to make this information available to all ADEA member institutions and to other health professions schools that are striving for greater diversity. It contains a thorough discussion of diversity and excellence in higher education, concrete suggestions for ways to work with your committee, PowerPoint slides-from the ADEA Admissions Committee Workshop-with illustrative data, and an extensive reference list for further reading. As a web-based resource, we hope its accessibility and adaptability will make it a valuable tool for admissions committees for many years to come.

Introduction: How to use this guide

The purpose of this guide is to generate a discussion within your institution about how you might reshape your admissions process to produce a more diverse student body and, in turn, provide a better educational experience for your students.

  • It provides relevant data about the limitations of traditional admissions practices.
  • It discusses diversity and excellence in dental education, and the ways in which diversity can benefit your institution.
  • It describes promising newer practices that are producing more diverse dental school classes.
  • And it offers concrete tools to help you generate discussion among admissions committee members, other faculty, and administrators about how you might modify your current practices.

Chapter 1 provides a national context for the discussion of diversity and admissions practices.

Chapter 2 makes the case that increasing diversity in the institutions that prepare health professionals promotes educational excellence, creates a more diverse practitioner community, and increases access to care. Once you have familiarized yourself with this background material, you will be ready to initiate a discussion with your colleagues.

Chapter 3 shows you how to engage them in an exploration of what your school is hoping to accomplish with its admissions practices and to set specific priorities that are consonant with the values of your institution.

Once your committee has prioritized increasing diversity in admissions, you can view Chapter 4 to find promising practices that are producing results at other institutions.

Chapter 5 addresses the concerns that institutions raise about how to implement admissions strategies in ways that are both fair and legal.

Finally, Chapter 6 looks at how the makeup of admitted students has changed at dental schools that have embraced the practices outlined in Chapter 4.

Throughout this guide, you will find suggestions for generating discussion among admissions committee members and others at your school. You will also find links to PowerPoint slides that you can download for use in these discussions. Finally, in the Resources section, you will find an extensive list of the published literature on this topic.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What You Should Know (But May Not)  

Chapter 2: Why Diversity Matters  

Chapter 3: Getting Started  

Chapter 4: Promising Practices  

Chapter 5: Diversity and the Law  

Chapter 6: What Constitutes Success?


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The content of this publication should not be construed as legal advice, and readers should not act upon information contained in this publication without professional counsel.