Even without Photoshop, colleges try to shape the picture they present to prospective students, says Tim Pippert, a sociologist at Augsburg College in Minnesota.
“Diversity is something that’s being marketed,” Pippert says. “They’re trying to sell a campus climate, they’re trying to sell a future. Campuses are trying to say, ‘If you come here, you’ll have a good time, and you’ll fit in.’ ”
Pippert and his researchers looked at more than 10,000 images from college brochures, comparing the racial breakdown of students in the pictures to the colleges’ actual demographics. They found that, overall, the whiter the school, the more diversity depicted in the brochures, especially for certain groups.
“When we looked at African-Americans in those schools that were predominantly white, the actual percentage in those campuses was only about 5 percent of the student body,” he says. “They were photographed at 14.5 percent.”…
Rawlins says that showing inflated diversity can actually be a step toward creating a more diverse campus. It helps students imagine themselves at those schools. But balancing representation and aspiration is difficult.
It would be interesting to then take the next step and look at the effects of the differences between what is represented in the promotional materials versus what is actually happening on campus.