The Cultural Mosaic
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1992, 1(1), 4-5. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Immigration is a significant contributor to population growth and ethnic diversity in America. The national census revealed that about 127 million, or 51% of 1990's population is attributable to the net immigration of 48 million persons during the period 1790- 1990. About 98 million of these are attributable to the immigration of 28 million, primarily from Europe, during the period 1830-1930.

Major changes in the ethnic composition of the American population have reflected immigration patterns. Thus, the percentage of whites rose from 81% in 1790 to 90% in 1930 and the Afr. Am. percentage dropped from 19% to 10% during the same period.

The thirty year period from 1960 to 1990, however, reflected the most pronounced changes in ethnic composition (based on major racial groups and those of Hispanic origin) in all the censuses from 1790-1990. The total white percentage in this period dropped from 89% to 84% and whites of non-Hispanic origin from 85% in 1960 to 76% in 1990. Correlatively, minority groups all increased their proportions. The Hispanic population percentage rose from 3.5 to 9.0%. During the same period, the Asian and Pacific Islander population rose from 0.6% to 2.9%. These figures reflect a large scale immigration pattern from Latin America and Asia. Furthermore, the growth rate of the Hispanic and major non-white racial groups was higher than that of the total population. The Afr. Am. population during the 1960-90 span also increased, from 10.5% to 12.1%, due, however, a higher growth rate than that of the white population, though lower than the rate of the other minority groups.

By 2000, Hispanics are expected to increase to 9.4% of the total population, when they will number 25.2 million. By 2010, it is expected that the number of Hispanic Americans will reach 40 million, thus slightly outnumbering African-Americans in the U.S. population. Asians and Pacific Islanders (PI) are the fastest growing minority in the U.S. with a 108.5% increase between 1980 and 1990. Only 2.9% of the U.S. population and numbering around 7.3 million in 1990, Asians and PI are forecast to rise to 3.5% of the population, or 9.5 million persons, by 2000. By 2010, they will number 12 million, or 4.5% of the total population.

African Americans are expected to reach 35.1 million by 2000 and represent 13.1% of the nation's population. By 2010 they will number 38.8 million or 13.7% of the total population. American Indians (including Eskimos and Aleuts), numbering almost 2 million, made up less than 1% of the U.S. population in 1990. [What lies ahead: A decade of decision. (1992). Alexandria, Virginia: United Way Strategic Institute, pp. 12-13. and Gibson, C. (1992). The contribution of immigration to the growth and ethnic diversity of the American population. In Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 2, 157-174.]


These figures and projections give substance to the notion that we are increasingly a multicultural society. Many programs started in the past few decades have been aimed at increasing the number of minorities in colleges and universities. The number of minority students increased dramatically in the 1970s, but slowed significantly in the 1980s, with Asian-Americans as the only group showing continued rapid growth. Minorities in graduate school have shown a dramatic decline in growth. According to Altbach and Lomotey (The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education, Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), there has been resistance by departments and programs to affirmative action guidelines, and a serious problem of an appropriate pool of racial minority candidates for many fields. Afro-Americans and Hispanics remain seriously underrepresented at the most prestigious colleges and universities. In effect, although the U.S. will continue to be more ethnically diverse, the pool of minority Ph.Ds will continue to decrease.

Altbach and Lomotey point out that the bulk of student activism is related to racial issues (either South Africa and its racial policies, or on-campus racial incidents), and that race remains one of the most volatile and divisive issues in U.S. higher education. If racism is to be tackled successfully, the initiative must come from the top in addressing such issues an enrollments, faculty recruitment, curriculum, minority student alienation and attrition, and faculty-student relations.

There is another challenge here--educational leaders must take advantage of diversity to increase competitive strength in a changing world. They can do this by incorporating multicultural concerns in the curricula, and by actively recruiting students, faculty and staff that represent this diversity. And they must be prepared to handle the controversy engendered by attempts to diversify the existing curriculum.

While it is important to address multicultural issues through revising the curriculum and actively recruiting minority faculty, staff, and students, it is also important to address some of the subtler aspects of the problem. Valuing difference does not simply arise from exposure to diverse models and curriculum. It grows slowly as a result of associating and interacting with people with different perspectives. Higher education must find ways of facilitating such opportunities that might not normally occur, given the natural tendency of people to associate with what is familiar and easily understood.

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