FARGO — Some colleges and universities in the Fargo-Moorhead area are becoming more diverse, and if high school projections hold up, the region could see double-digit growth for minorities in the coming years.

Women also are attending college at a higher rate than men, following a decades-long national trend.

The percentage of non-white higher education students has increased as the white population drops. Data projects that trend will continue across the nation, as well as in Minnesota and North Dakota, according to higher education experts and leaders.

Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College and Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) in Moorhead have reported increases in their Hispanic and black populations over the past decade, according to an analysis by The Forum. Increases for non-white students have ranged anywhere from a 3-percentage point change at Concordia to a 14-point change at M State. Concordia has seen its student of color population increase by 11 percentage points.

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“Surprisingly, I think the misnomer of a lack of diversity in Fargo-Moorhead, I don’t think that is true anymore,” said Karl Stumo, Concordia's vice president of enrollment and marketing. “We have a real richness of diversity here."

Meanwhile, the white student body count has dropped. M State went from 88% Caucasian in fall 2009 to 73% last year, while Concordia declined from 91% to 82% in the same time frame. MSUM, meanwhile, dropped from 84% in the 2008-09 school year to 79% in 2017-18.

Those schools also have enrolled higher portions of women over the past 10 years. M State reported about 54% of its student body was female last year, MSUM was 62% female in 2018 and Concordia had a 58% female population in 2017, according to figures from the schools.

The split was mostly even over the last decade for North Dakota public schools, though North Dakota State University and North Dakota State College of Science had slightly higher male populations.

Women have gone to school at higher percentages than men across the nation since the 1980s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Female students made up 56% of the post-secondary system in 2017, and NCES projections say that likely won't change in the next decade.

Reports indicate the Fargo-Moorhead region, Minnesota and North Dakota could see substantial growth in non-white groups.

“We’re going to see double-digit percentage growth in both Latinx, Hispanic populations and black populations,” said Peter Wielinski, interim executive director of public information and government affairs at M State.


Following a national trend

M State doesn’t require its students to report their ethnicity, but the school system is proud it has more diverse campuses than other schools in the region, Wielinski said.

“Having students experience that level of diversity better prepares them for the type of society that is projected to lay ahead of us,” he said.

He attributed the growth to new Americans coming to the area.

Minnesota has seen large gains in ethnic diversity for higher education, according to data from the state Office of Higher Education. Its white student population went from 76% in 2008 to 68% in 2017, the latest information available. Meanwhile, ethnic groups have increased, with the largest gains found among black students. The black population makes up the largest group of students of color with 9%, the Higher Education Office said.

Hispanic students have made the largest gains, going from 4% to 19% in the same time frame. Black students jumped from 10% to 13%, and scholars from Asia and the Pacific Islands went from 2% to 7%.

Minnesota’s black student population grew by 29% from 2010 to 2017.

The national percentage of non-white students attending college in the U.S. has also grown over the past 40 years, from 16% of the total higher education population in 1976 to 44% in 2017, according to the latest numbers from NCES. In 2010, students of color made up 37% of the U.S. college population, the NCES said.

Public institutions in North Dakota also have seen subtle changes. As a whole, the North Dakota University System went from 82% white in 2009 to 81% in 2018.

It’s harder to determine ethnic changes in institutions since data available on the NDUS website isn’t broken down that way. Definitions and categories have changed several times over the years.

The Forum requested a decade's worth of data by race for each institution on July 24. That would have taken two to three weeks before staff could get to it, NDUS spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said July 25 in an email, meaning it likely wouldn’t have been ready for this story.

But it does break data down into three categories: two-year colleges, regional universities and research universities. The white population in the first category, which includes NDSCS, dropped 4 points from 87% in 2009, while NDSU’s category, research universities, dropped 1 percentage point from 83%.

In the last five years, there has been some indication that students of color are going to NDUS institutions at higher rates. Last year, 16% of the public schools’ student bodies were non-white, compared to 11% in 2014. Research universities jumped from 10% to 16% over the last five years, and two-year colleges climbed about 2 percentage points to 15% in 2018.

Becoming more diverse is a reflection of national trends and society, NDUS institutional researcher Jennifer Weber said.

“If you look at what’s been happening to the nation as a whole, that same pattern has been occurring,” she said of North Dakota. “I wouldn't say we are becoming more diverse relative to other people. We are becoming more diverse as the country is becoming more diverse.”

Women are more likely to go to college, Stumo said, but gender populations can depend on the programs that are popular at schools.

For example, liberal arts schools like Concordia excel in programs like education and music, which tend to attract more women, Stumo said. NDSU is a land grant university and has large agriculture, engineering and business programs, which are overrepresented by men, he said.

More growth to come

Stumo uses data from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a nonprofit that tracks high school graduation rates and predicts how many students will be in the market for college. Nationwide, the white population for high school graduates is set to drop to 51% by the 2031-32 school year, compared to 58% in 2012-13, WICHE said. The non-white population likely will rise 7 percentage points to 49% in the same time period, the nonprofit said.

“There’s no question that the number of students graduating from high schools from diverse backgrounds … is growing,” Stumo said.

North Dakota likely will see the most dramatic changes since its Caucasian populations at colleges and universities are so high, Wielinski said. White students are projected to make up 68% of the high school graduate pool in 2031-32, down from 88% in 2012-13, WICHE said. Minnesota likely will see a drop in the percentage of white students from 80% to 71% in that time, according to the nonprofit.

NDSU is actively reaching out to ethnic populations, said Laura Oster-Aaland, vice provost for student affairs and enrollment management.

“We’re absolutely interested in serving all of our citizens at NDSU, especially interested in reaching out to populations that have been historically disadvantaged and underrepresented in higher education,” she said.

It’s important to be a good partner with students from different backgrounds, Stumo said, adding Concordia believes its learning environment will strengthen with a diverse student body

“Concordia has made aggressive efforts to develop relationships with communities of ethnic diversity in the last three to five years,” Stumo said.