Study Shows More Than Half of American Colleges Now Have Diversity Requirements
By Jacqueline Conciatore
Results of a new study suggest that a majority of colleges and universities require undergraduates to study diversity issues or material that speaks to diversity.
The national survey, released last month by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, showed that slightly more than half — 54 percent — of responding colleges and universities have existing diversity requirements, while another 8 percent are developing requirements. The overall total rises if two-year colleges, which have significantly lower requirement rates, are pulled out of the equation.
“The total of 62 percent with existing or pending diversity requirements confirms that colleges and universities now believe diversity important enough for all students to study, important in the same way as other educational requirements — basic writing skills, quantitative skills and knowledge about important societal issues,” says Debra Humphreys, director of programs in the association’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Global Initiatives. “This is a down payment on what is really needed to prepare students for a rapidly changing world.”
Among the schools with requirements, a majority — 58 percent — require only one course, while the other 42 percent require two courses or more. Examples range from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where all sophomores are required to take a course on American pluralism, to schools that have long lists of courses that meet the diversity requirement.
“[These could include] everything from U.S. race relations to African American history to modern Chinese art,” Humphreys says. “Some have defined diversity, in my view, too broadly and others more narrowly.” The most common model is one in which students are required to take one course among several approved diversity courses.
How universal are the requirements within institutions? The vast majority of schools apply them to every student, although some schools will allow certain departments, such as business or engineering schools, to opt out, Humphreys says.
Two-year colleges yielded the lowest rate. About a third, or 32 percent, have requirements, compared to 58 percent of bachelor’s degree-granting institutions, 63 percent of master’s programs and 59 percent of doctoral and research universities.
Regional breakdowns showed diversity requirements to be most prevalent in western and midwestern states, and in the north central and New England regions. The Northwest and Southern regions had the lowest rates.
The study also found:
n Most schools have had requirements in place for five to 10 years, although one-quarter have had requirements for longer;
n The vast majority — 83 percent — offer one or more courses addressing diversity in the United States, while a significant majority also offer courses addressing diversity outside the United States and/or non-Western culture courses; and,
n Of those with requirements, 44 percent allow students to meet the standard with courses that address issues of diversity in the United States.
With the study, the association wanted not only a scan of the national use of diversity requirements, but anecdotal reports about innovative and interesting programs. The association plans to explore and discuss specific curriculum models on its Web site and newsletter, Humphreys says.
The trend of requiring students to take diversity classes is consistent with public opinion on diversity in the curriculum. A national opinion poll of registered voters sponsored by the Ford Foundation Campus Diversity Initiative in the fall of 1998, found that 68 percent of those polled support “requiring students to take at least one cultural and ethnic diversity course in order to graduate.” An even larger majority, 94 percent, agreed that “America’s growing diversity makes it more important than ever for all of us to understand people who are different than ourselves.”
The survey was sent to every accredited college and university in the country. Association officials received completed surveys from 543 institutions. Many colleges and universities responding to the survey say they are incorporating issues of diversity into the college curriculum throughout general education as well as through specialized interdisciplinary programs.
Association officials developed this survey after working through its national initiative, American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy and Liberal Learning, with hundreds of colleges and universities around the country as they develop model courses, programs and requirements on issues of diversity.
For complete findings of the study, visit DiversityWeb at <www.diversityweb.org> or the association’s Web site at <www.aacu-edu.org>.
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