9 Tips for Finding Nursing Schools with Strong Diversity and Inclusion Plans

Here are the right questions to ask if you’re looking for a diverse and inclusive nursing school.

erika almanza brown

By Erika Almanza Brown

Erika is a Seattle-based freelance writer covering education and parenting topics.

students walk to class while chatting
students walk to class while chatting

The demand for diversity, equity, and inclusion at colleges and universities has intensified amid the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting many schools to promise to address these issues. But if you’re looking at nursing schools, whether on-campus or online programs, and issues of diversity are a top priority for you, how do you determine if a school is truly invested in tackling these concerns?

“If you find a school that only utters the phrase ‘diversity’ when it’s only coming from its diversity office, then that school has a problem,” says Shielda G. Rodgers, PhD, RN, associate professor and assistant dean for Inclusive Excellence at the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Everyone on campus needs to buy into it.”

Considering diversity and inclusion issues will help nurses better understand the needs of different segments of the patient population and deliver better care to these groups.

To understand why diversity, equity, and inclusion can be crucial to a student’s academic experience and success, it’s first important to understand the terms.

Diversity encompasses the potential differences within a population. These differences include ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, race, gender, economic class, abilities, and life experiences.

Inclusion is the intentional and coordinated effort to help everyone, especially those in the minority, feel valued, supported, included, and encouraged to participate.

Equity recognizes that not everyone arrives from the same place with the same advantages and works to allocate college resources to students in greater need.

students studying together

Diversity in educational settings benefits underrepresented students, whether they’re gender nonconforming, have a disability, or are in a racial minority. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, diversity actually benefits students of all backgrounds.

That’s because exposure to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences can improve critical thinking and analytical skills, and help students compete professionally in the growing global marketplace.

As a result, the nursing industry is working to keep pace with the changing population and expectations. The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey found that 19% of registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. identified as racial minorities. However, the U.S. Census projects that by 2045, the majority population will be made up of non-white racial and ethnic groups. This will require a more diverse nursing workforce that provides quality care and is culturally sensitive.

In 2018-2019, a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that from entry-level to doctoral nursing programs, around 34% of students were from minority populations. The association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Group (DEIG) is working to improve engagement of underrepresented groups in schools and the workforce.

“If students find a fit where they feel like they belong both academically and non-academically, then they’re more likely to get their degree,” Rodgers says. “Otherwise, they could leave in one year.”

If you’re a student of color and you’re looking at nursing schools—or any schools for that matter—ask these nine questions to determine if a school is effectively executing a diversity, inclusion, and equity plan.



Does the school have a diversity and inclusion plan with measurable goals?

“Fundamentally, the diversity plan should be a major component of the school’s strategic plan whereby the primary mission should be to promote inclusive excellence—the integration of a standard of excellence not only in the academic realm but in all facets of inclusion and diversity,” says Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN, and assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing.

Additionally, the school should use metrics, such as recruitment and graduation rates, to routinely track and report its progress and hold itself accountable for reaching its goals for diversity and inclusion.



Does the school have a detailed plan to not only achieve diversity but to also address discrepancies in retention and graduation rates among minority students?

While it’s important to learn if a nursing school participates in a pipeline program that fosters a diverse student body through partnerships with school districts or other postsecondary institutions, it’s also crucial that the school continuously supports its students to ensure they graduate.

Johnson suggests connecting with current minority students about their personal experiences and whether the school has resources to help set students up for academic success.



What financial programs does the school offer to support economically disadvantaged students?

“Nursing schools are really expensive,” Rodgers says. She advises to comparison shop when considering schools by asking for a list of resources that are available to help cover the full cost of attendance.

That includes not only tuition and room and board but also books, school supplies, uniforms, testing, and traveling to a clinical site for training. There are many scholarships specifically for minority students but she advises, “Be aware of scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages that solely cover room, tuition, and board instead of the total cost of attendance.”



Does the school have funded programs or campus affinity groups to provide cultural and socio-economic support for minority students?

As with many health issues, the global COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the health of Blacks and Latinx communities, while Asians and Asian-Americans have often been on the receiving end of racial slurs regarding the virus’ origin. Schools should provide emergency financial aid to meet basic needs like food and shelter for students, as well as offer mental health services that address their emotional challenges during these stressful times.

Johnson says affinity groups can build a sense of community and belonging. “Students from underrepresented groups have often stated how having such groups are invaluable in that they are able to bond together based on common backgrounds and characteristics,” she says.



Does the school provide a variety of educational opportunities on topics of diversity, inclusion, and equity?

Johnson suggests looking for schools that allow students more opportunities to share their experiences and concerns broadly across the school. Some schools require students and faculty to learn about diversity and inclusion through coursework and workshops, an approach that helps educate white students and takes the burden off students of color to solely lead the charge.

This includes creating spaces for white students to learn about their own potential inherent biases, how to confront racial injustice, specific actions to be antiracist, and ways of holding one another accountable to help convert these learners into allies.



If a program is online, does it follow a diversity plan?

Johnson says online nursing programs should offer the same opportunities for community and inclusion. “Students must inquire about the strategies and/or plans universities or colleges have in place to create a sense of community virtually,” she says.

She suggests looking for the following, for example: regular check-in sessions held by faculty and student leaders on video conferencing platforms to create opportunities for ongoing communication; virtual meetings and activities organized by student groups to promote a sense of community for underrepresented groups; and virtual advisor-student meetings instead of  email or phone conversations.



Does the school look beyond campus for perspectives on racial and social justice?

Schools should welcome a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds, including from community members off campus, when making decisions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Including church leaders, advocates, and city officials in discussions and decisions can benefit campus culture and help the school carry out its policies.



Does the school have a hospitable campus that is safe and inclusive for all students?

Across the U.S., many student activists have called on their school leaders to remove sculptures, monuments, building names and accolades that honor controversial historical figures. Ask schools where they stand on these issues. Do campus police and the local police department have a plan in place to help students of color feel safe and welcome?

These circumstances can negatively affect some students. Rodgers strongly suggests that students look at the campus climate because in recent months, colleges and universities have “seen a resurgence in racism, and schools need to address all of that.”



Does the school have faculty and staff who are members of minority groups, and does it have a plan to increase those numbers?

According to the 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2013-14, 74% of faculty members at the nation’s colleges and universities were white, while 5% were Asian, 4% were Black, and 3% were Hispanic. But a diverse faculty can have a deep impact on course curriculum, campus climate and the academic experience for all students.

There are three significant advantages to having a diverse faculty, according to the Center for Education Data and Research:

  • Students of color benefit from seeing people like themselves in positions of authority.
  • Faculty from minority groups often have higher expectations for their minority students.
  • Faculty who share similar cultures and backgrounds with students can better determine effective teaching strategies and interpret their students’ behaviors.

All of these benefits promote student achievement, so learning what nursing schools are doing to increase diversity among faculty and staff could be another key in finding the school that’s right for you.

Minority Nursing Groups and Associations

Joining a group or an association that supports minority nurses can be a powerful tool in networking and staying on top of important issues. These organizations are a great place to start.

  • The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA)
  • Black Nurses Rock
  • National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)
  • Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
  • National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
  • Philippine Nurses Association of America Inc.

Professional Insight From:

Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN
Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University, School of Nursing

Shielda Glover Rodgers, PhD, RN
Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Nursing