What Can Predominantly White Institutions Do To Retain Administrators of Color?

Jerlando F. L. Jackson, Professor and Director
Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis/Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory
University of Wisconsin-Madison

I wrote a book chapter 10 years ago entitled – A New Test for Diversity: Retaining African American Administrators at Predominantly White Institutions[1]. In the book chapter, I attempted to understand the question posed in the title of this blog, with a particular focus on African Americans. The findings from a study I performed detailing practical steps for retaining African American administrators at predominantly White institutions were used to form the nucleus of the chapter. Those basic tenants that emerged from the study participants are still relevant today for institutions to consider. The emergent steps[2] with a brief statement about each are provided below.

Commit to the Principles of Diversity and Affirmative Action

Colleges and universities can include a diversity educational component for all institutional training programs for its personnel. This sends a message that the institution desires its members to be understanding of differences and appreciative of them. More specifically, it shows that the institution values the perspective of diverse groups.

Use Recruitment as a Retention Strategy

Retention for administrators of color begins with an institution’s recruitment and hiring practices. A university that has well thought out and printed procedures for recruiting and hiring staff of color sends a positive, welcoming, and supportive message to potential and current staff. Institutions must go a step beyond just having these policies in place; they must move toward reaching and maintaining goals for its desired diversity mix.

Provide Equity in Wages and Salaries

Colleges and universities should provide competitive wages and salaries for administrators or color; it shows a commitment to the person in the position. Salary issues should be evaluated as they relate to recruiting and retaining administrators of color. Often administrators of color are sought after by other institutions willing to offer more benefits. Wages and salaries have to be sufficient and equitable with timely increases.

Provide an Orientation Program

This orientation process could simply include two components: community and campus orientation. Community orientation consists of the community leadership informing the new administrator about the available network systems (e.g., churches and social groups). Campus orientation could consist of a reception to introduce the administrator to the students, faculty, and staff of the college or university.

Develop a Mentoring Program for Junior and Senior Management

Provide mentoring opportunities with dedicated university officials who will take the time to nurture administrators of color.  This experience will provide knowledge into the political environment that is very important in terms of acclimating to the campus and its culture.  Axioms such as unspoken dress codes (e.g., long sleeve white shirts worn consistently) could be identified if they are important to the fiber of the campus culture.

Foster Open Lines of Communication between the Administration Hierarchy and Staff

Professionals value feedback and input about their work. However, the feedback and input must be constructive and encouraging in nature and should come from upper-level administration. None of the feedback should be done in a patronizing manner. Sincere support and feedback of the administrator’s performance are most valuable in fostering a feeling of belonging and of being a valued member of the team. This enables administrators to feel supported when they have to make difficult decisions.

Empower the Administrator to Perform his or her Job

Utilizing a team concept of management will allow for greater inclusion in decision-making and policy formulation. Ultimately, the administrator of color must be given the power to make changes when necessary, when it comes to the overall direction of his or her operating unit and the institution as a whole. Micro-management is a frustrating situation for any administrator.

Promote the Pursuit of Professional Advancement and Development (e.g., learning and research)

Colleges and universities should support and endorse the professional aspirations for administrators of color. Encouraging career development and advancement such as participating in professional organizations is very important. This is especially true if there is a desire to maintain affiliations with multicultural subgroups within these organizations. This can assist in maintaining cultural roots if that is an important factor to self-identification. Furthermore, colleges and universities should reward administrators’ efforts with promotions, new, and expanding responsibilities.


[1] Jackson, J. F. L. (2001). A New Test for Diversity: Retaining African American Administrators at Predominantly White Institutions. In L. Jones (Ed.), Retaining African Americans in Higher Education: Challenging Paradigms for Retaining Students, Faculty, and Administrators (pp. 93- 109). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

[2] Slightly modified for use with this blog.

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