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National Survey Finds Diversity Requirements Common Around the Country
Debra Humphreys, Editor, Diversity Digest, and Director of Programs, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives


Sixty-three percent of colleges and universities report that they either have in place a diversity requirement or they are in the process of developing one. This is the main finding of the first national survey to examine this trend in undergraduate education. Campus leaders in all regions of the country realize that a high quality college education today should include education about diversity both in the U.S. and around the globe.

This trend 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."

This new survey, administered by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and supported with funds from the James Irvine Foundation, suggests that colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, are indeed stepping up to the plate and providing the kind of education the American public believes is important to help today's graduates succeed in the workplace and to strengthen America's increasingly diverse communities.

AAC&U 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. This survey makes clear that these schools are not alone in investing in transforming their curricula and developing effective models for diversity learning. The survey was sent to every accredited college and university in the country. Completed surveys were received from 543 colleges and universities representing every region of the country and a wide array of institutional types.

Main Survey Findings

Of the survey respondents, 54 percent had diversity requirements in place, while another 8 percent were in the process of developing them. Of those with requirements, 25 percent of institutions have had them in place for more than 10 years. Forty-five percent had put them in place in the past five to ten years and another 30 percent reported having their requirements in place for less than five years. A majority of those schools with requirements (58 percent) require only one course, while 42 percent require two or more diversity courses.

Fifty-nine percent of those responding from Research or Doctoral institutions and sixty-three percent of those responding from Master's level institutions report having diversity requirements. Fifty-eight percent of those responding from Baccalaureate institutions have requirements, while only 32 percent of those from Associate degree-granting institutions (AA institutions) report requiring diversity courses. The sample of AA institutions was somewhat smaller than the other institutional types. One-hundred and nine AA institutions responded to the survey.

Of those schools with requirements, 83 percent offer one or more course addressing diversity in the U.S; 65 percent offer one or more course addressing diversity outside the U.S.; and 76 percent offer one or more non-Western cultures course.

Given the changing demographics of the U.S. and the importance of issues of diversity in this nation's history, AAC&U has recommended that every college student should learn about issues of diversity in the U.S. as part of their undergraduate curriculum. As AAC&U's report, "American Pluralism and the College Curriculum," puts it, "Education for United States democratic and cultural pluralism is not the same task...as the education for global knowledge and interconnection.... Students require both global knowledge and domestic knowledge." While it does appear that many colleges and universities are continuing to develop courses and requirements that address issues of diversity in the U.S., this survey did find that 44 percent of those with requirements allowed students to fulfill the requirements without addressing issues of diversity in the U.S.

Models for Diversity Requirements

Given the diversity of kinds of academic programs offered at American colleges and universities, it is not surprising that this survey found a wide array of different models for diversity requirements. By far the most common model, however, is one in which students are required to take one course among a list of different approved diversity courses. This was the model chosen by 68 percent of the respondents. Seventeen percent of respondents require all students to take a single course with a shared syllabus and another twelve percent report having a diversity requirement within one or more major.

Differences Across Regions

While requirements seem to be a trend across the country, this survey did find some regional differences. Using the regional breakdowns of the 6 Regional Accrediting Agencies, staff members examined regional trends in the findings. Seventy-eight percent of those respondents from the Western region had requirements. Sixty-eight percent in the Middle States Region, 60 percent in the North Central Region, and 45 percent in the New England Region reported having diversity requirements. Only 35 percent from the Northwest Region and 36 percent from the Southern Region reported having requirements. The pool of survey respondents from the Northwest region was relatively small (26 institutions). One-hundred and twenty-nine institutions sent responses from the Southern region.

This survey clearly demonstrates that colleges and universities across the country are taking seriously the challenge of educating students for life in a diverse democracy and increasingly interconnected world.

Watch for future articles that will feature case studies of some of the requirements at schools responding to the survey. For the complete findings visit www.diversityweb.org.


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