• Home
  • General
  • Demographic Trends of PK-12 Teachers/Students and Higher Education Faculty/Students

Demographic Trends of PK-12 Teachers/Students and Higher Education Faculty/Students

Article 2 of Exploring Leadership Diversity in Educator Preparation Programs: An Asian/American Perspective

The “Exploring Leadership Diversity in Educator Preparation Programs: An Asian/American Perspective” series is a multi-article study that aims to share the discoveries of a yearlong study that Nicholas D. Hartlep, Ph.D., and Rachel Endo, Ph.D., undertook during the 2023–2024 academic year. Their qualitative study explored the experiences of current and former Asian/American Education Preparation Program (EPP) leaders via surveys and interviews. The first two articles of this series will set the stage for continuation.

In this article, the authors highlight current demographic trends of PK-12 teachers/students and higher education faculty/students. The authors argue that there is a democratic imperative that educator preparation programs (EPPs) diversify their leadership.


To accurately forecast the future of faculty diversity and inclusion, scholars must diligently scrutinize historical and contemporary trends. One such trend that the field holds in importance is what educators have labeled the demographic imperative, a term used to refer to the racial, cultural, and diversity mismatches between PK-12 teachers and their students (see Urban Institute, 2017). Figure 1 visually demonstrates the demographic imperative that exists in PK-12 education.

Figure 1

How Does Teacher Diversity Compare with Student Diversity?

Source: Urban Institute (2017)

Public PK-12 schools are microcosms of society, and the students who attend them continue to become more diverse while their teachers remain mostly middle-class, White, and female (Gist & Bristol, 2022). Some scholars have labeled the demographic imperative the democratic imperative because diversifying K–12 teachers, according to their research, is so vitally important for society; it is the right thing to do according to their perspective. Sleeter et al. (2015) note, “Addressing the demographic imperative involves not merely encouraging more students of color to become teachers but also removing the institutional barriers that keep them out in the first place” (pp. 8–9, italics added).

The ethnic and racial diversity of U.S. public PK-12 students continues to increase over time. If demographic trends continue, it is projected that by 2025 non-Hispanic White students will be the main racial minority group of U.S. public high school graduates (Bransberger et al., 2020). What this means is that the student population in U.S. public PK-12 schools will be mostly Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). According to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (2020), in 2036, Whites will represent 43% of the public high school graduates in the United States, compared to 2019 when they represented 51%. Asian/Americans will represent 28% of public high school graduates in 2036, compared to 2019 when they represented 25% (see Table 1).

Table 1

The demographic trends of students in higher education are changing at an incredible rate. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2020a, 2020b), data shows a shift in gender and race/ethnicity in higher education. Female enrollment continues to surpass male enrollment and there has been an increase in recent years in the number of students who identify as Hispanic, Asian/American, or two or more races. Matias et al. (2022) assert that the diversity of tenure-track faculty in the United States is not outpacing the demographic shifts in the American public, a finding derived from their analysis of the U.S. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). This revelation prompts a critical inquiry into its implications for the future of diversity in higher education leadership.

The demographic imperative moves the discussion of diversity, equity, and inclusion, beyond PK-12 schools into higher education, where approximately 75% of faculty (and leaders, including Deans and Associate Deans) across disciplines in academia are White. Specifically, within EPPs, nearly 80% of those serving as deans, or assistant or associate deans, are White (see Table 1).

Our study sought to analyze and describe the types of equity and opportunity gaps that are preventing Asian/Americans from leading EPPs in formal leadership roles. The researchers interviewed Asian/American EPP leaders (n = 12) who currently hold or have previously held leadership roles, aiming to understand their experiences in Education, a field that historically has been White-dominated, and still is.

In this article, we cite the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which illustrates that the student population in higher education continues to become more diverse. Figure 2 shows the percentage of university/college students by race, indicating that there is a narrowing of the gap between White and non-White students, where White students will soon be the numerical minority in higher education (Jaschik, 2022).

Figure 2

Percentage Distribution of University/College Students by Race, 1976­–2021

Note. This graph was produced by author, Nicholas Hartlep, in 2024, summarizing higher education student racial data. From the National Center for Education Statistics, retrieved here

As the higher education classroom becomes more diverse, so too should its faculty and administrators, such as deans, assistant/associate deans, and department chairs. Disappointingly, research demonstrates that the democratic imperative will not be achieved at the current rates of change for college faculty. The only place where higher education faculty diversification is happening faster than the rate of demographic change in the population is at Liberal Arts Colleges, where these institutions “are diversifying faster than the rate of change in the population, and thus are better positioned than most to reach demographic parity. Yet even these teaching-focused institutions are not on track to achieve parity in the next generation” (Matias, Lewis, & Hope, 2022, p. 1). Diversity within the higher education administrative ranks is needed to ensure that leaders reflect those whom they serve. What do we know about the leadership of EPPs?

Tags: , , ,