Purpose: American higher education is committed to diversity, saying it enhances the learning environment. Medical schools weigh applicants' socioeconomic origins when deciding admissions, fostering higher attendance by students from the working and poverty classes, historically underrepresented groups. When choosing deans, however, categories of diversity do not include lower socioeconomic origins. The author studied the socioeconomic backgrounds of medical school deans to test whether America's leading medical schools should be hiring more deans of working and poverty class origins for diversity purposes.
Method: During spring 2009, the author surveyed deans at America's 50 top-rated medical schools, asking them about their parents' highest levels of education and principal occupations during the respondents' youth. He then compared the results against the general population.
Results: Based on the responses of 34 deans, deans of working and poverty class origins are appreciably underrepresented at America's elite medical programs. These results are particularly revealing given what reformers say about the importance of demographic diversity for enhancing the quality of higher education and the power these administrators exercise over their respective programs.
Conclusions: Socioeconomic origins should be included in the campaign to achieve greater diversity among medical school deans, as now happens with medical school students. If these leading programs expand their diversity efforts to hire more deans with working class backgrounds, perhaps other medical schools will follow their precedent.