News in Brief

By AGB    //    Volume 32,  Number 2   //    March/April 2024

The Debate Over DEI Programs

A three-letter acronym has become a kind of lightning rod in higher education policy debates across the nation: DEI. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts have become so controversial that more than a dozen states—including Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia—have introduced or passed legislation to limit or curtail them. These efforts are so numerous that the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) provides a webpage to track legislation introduced nationwide to dismantle DEI efforts and offices.1 It’s not only legislators and governors leading the charge. As CNN wrote, “Some of the most powerful business leaders in America level some of the loudest attacks yet against DEI.”2

Supporters of DEI policies and programs credit them “as one way to combat inequality3 by encouraging multiculturalism and providing resources for people of different backgrounds,” CNN said in an earlier article.4 “Studies have shown that college students exposed to more diversity have greater levels of cultural awareness and political participation.”5

In a recent article, CHE covered a newly formed group of college leaders, “Education for All,” organized to support student success and give students a feeling of belonging, as well as change the narrative about DEI efforts. As Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit that partners with community colleges to support greater student access and success, said in the article, “Our country … needs every one of the students in our community colleges to move through, get a credential of value, and contribute to the prosperity of the local community that they are in.”6 According to the article, “That the presidents’ group mostly represents community colleges—which enroll a higher share of students of color than four-year institutions do—is significant, its members say. Karen A. Stout, president of Achieving the Dream, said the recent attacks on DEI are ‘an attack on the students that community colleges serve.’”7

But opponents have come out strongly against such initiatives. “Conservative lawmakers have for years claimed DEI efforts are a form of indoctrination,” CNN noted, adding that they also say they “eat up valuable financial resources with little impact.”8

In Oklahoma, the governor has issued an order requiring state agencies and colleges to “conduct reviews of DEI positions and programs” and forbidding allocations of state resources to DEI efforts, PBS reported. “The order also lists a series of actions, such as prohibiting DEI statements and requirements to disclose pronouns.”9

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents approved an agreement to chop spending on DEI initiatives in exchange for $800 million in funding for pay increases for employees and a new building on the Madison campus. The funds, which had been “held hostage by state Republicans,” according to Inside Higher Ed, “will cap all DEI staff hires for three years, restructure and redefine the roles of one-third of the system’s current DEI staff, and freeze all administrative hires across the system, among other concessions.”10

Inside Higher Ed also reported that Florida’s State Board of Education recently prohibited spending on DEI programs at 28 state colleges, following a similar move at the Florida State University System.11 It quoted the State Board of Education chair Ben Gibson as saying, “DEI is really a cover for discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination, and that has no place in our state colleges at all.”12

Texas’s anti–diversity, equity, and inclusion bill, S.B. 17,13 also took effect this year at public colleges and universities in the state. Institutions had been preparing to comply with the new law for months, “but that preparation has varied greatly depending on the institution,” said Inside Higher Ed, which examined the results in depth. It concluded, “The result is a messy patchwork of campus policies, procedures and approaches.”14

Paulette Granberry Russell, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, told PBS: “I think what’s fueling this is a false narrative that leads to the mischaracterizations of the efforts to create diverse, equitable and inclusive campuses and discredit the proven mechanisms that have opened doors of opportunity and helped historically marginalized students earn their degrees.” She added, “These actions are just rebuilding barriers for those that have been historically marginalized and pushed aside. They do nothing to support students.”15

Where the issue goes from here is open to question, given the entrenched views that people on both sides of the issue hold. But in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell J. Chang, a professor and the interim provost of the office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at the University of California at Los Angeles, called for everyone to simply take a breath and give DEI initiatives more time before judging them.

“While there is no consensus about how we should ground or pursue this work, opponents are quick to characterize it as a radical project tethered to a fringe ideology,” Chang said. But, he added, “DEI offices on college campuses do not have special superpowers that ensure transformative influence as claimed by critics. These offices have had a relatively short history and must operate within a context shaped by multiple competing internal and external forces.” Chang concluded, “Given the short existence of diversity and equity offices and their continuing development, it’s imprudent to pass judgment based on misleading claims about what DEI is or isn’t in higher education.”16


1. “DEI Legislation Tracker: Explore Where College Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts Are Under Attack,” Chronicle of Higher Education,

2. Nicquel Terry Ellis and Catherine Thorbecke, “DEI Efforts Are under Siege. Here’s What Experts Say Is at Stake,” CNN, January 11, 2024,

3. See Aarti Iyer, “Understanding Advantaged Groups’ Opposition to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Policies: The Role of Perceived Threat,” Social and Personality Psychology Compass, first published April 13, 2022,

4. Leah Asmelash, “DEI Programs in Universities Are Being Cut across the Country. What Does this Mean for Higher Education?” CNN, June 14, 2023,

5. Asmelash, “DEI Programs.” See also Susan M. Johnson and Xia Li Lollar, “Diversity Policy in Higher Education: The Impact of College Students’ Exposure to Diversity on Cultural Awareness and Political Participation,” Journal of Education Policy 17: 3, 305–320,

6. Eric Kelderman, “College Presidents Are Quietly Organizing to Support DEI,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 29, 2024,

7. Kelderman, “College Presidents.”

8. Kelderman, “College Presidents.”

9. Adam Kemp, “Oklahoma Is the Latest State to Target DEI Programs. What’s Next?” PBS, January 10, 2024,

10. Liam Knox, “Wisconsin Board Reverses Vote, Approves Funding Deal,” Inside Higher Ed, December 14, 2023,

11. Johanna Alonso, “Florida Looks to Remove Sociology from Gen. Ed.” Inside Higher Ed, November 17, 2023,

12. Josh Moody, “DEI Spending Banned, Sociology Scrapped in Florida,” Inside Higher Ed, January 18, 2024,

13. S.B. 17, 88(1) Texas Legislature (2023),

14. Johanna Alonso, “Texas Colleges Prepare for the End of DEI,” Inside Higher Ed, December 19, 2023,

15. Kemp, “Oklahoma Is the Latest State.”

16. Mitchell J. Chang, “Republicans, Don’t Fear DEI. Diversity Offices Like Mine Could Only Wish to Be that Influential,” Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2023,

Colleges and Career Prep

Workforce training and jobs skills are increasingly a focus for state policymakers as well as students, their parents, and employers. In fact, economic and workforce development is the number one issue of concern among state higher education officers, according to the most recent annual report of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO). Due to current worker shortages, “Governors and legislators throughout the country are looking to the state’s higher education system to train and educate the future workforce,” the report said.1

In response, state higher education officers are working with business and higher education institutions to create and expand educational opportunities that meet such workforce needs in areas including health care and technology. The SHEEO report cited, among other examples, a partnership between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and Google that allows PASSHE undergraduates to obtain a Google career certificate while pursuing their degrees. It also noted that more states are offering free community college programs in those areas that need more trained employees.2

Whether specific degrees and/or certifications pay off in terms of state and student needs is also “likely to be up for discussion in many state legislatures,” according to Inside Higher Ed. It quoted Sean Tierney, director of research and policy at the Institute for Higher Education Policy: “If we want policymakers and students alike to invest in higher education, then we really need better data on what the return on investment is going to be.” Colorado and Texas, for example, are issuing annual reports to gauge the returns of certain educational programs.3

Inside Higher Ed also surveyed 3,000 students in late November 2023 and found they too desire more career preparation in college. Besides gaining greater knowledge in subjects they’re passionate about, as well as in other areas, they said their top educational priorities were gaining skills for specific careers and soft career skills—critical thinking, communication, and the like. They also said they wanted to leave college with “a clear idea of what they want to pursue,” and felt that faculty members should play more of a role in helping prepare them for jobs.4

Those survey results may reflect the fact that other research has found that many college graduates don’t feel that prepared for their jobs. In a study by Go1, an online learning platform, almost half of respondents said they didn’t think college had adequately prepared them, and a similar percentage said, “they wish they had known how to handle career progression prior to entering the work force,” Higher Ed Dive reported.5

What about employers? A survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) found that, “Almost 70 percent said they would prioritize hiring a college graduate with a microcredential for an entry-level job” over one with a college degree alone, Higher Ed Dive said in other coverage.6 But a study7 conducted by Collegis Education, an online program support company, and UPCEA (previously known as the University Professional and Continuing Education Association) found that “four-year institutions are lagging behind third-party providers, such as LinkedIn Learning and Coursera, in their efforts to create employer partnerships,” Inside Higher Ed reported. In fact, the percentage of organizations with partnerships or relationships with four-year higher education institutions dropped nine percentage points from the previous year to 40 percent, while the percentage of those affiliated with LinkedIn Learning rose 8 points to 52 percent.8

Meanwhile, a study by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) found that 86 percent of colleges and universities surveyed agree about the importance of skills- and competency-based learning and that they need to implement programs to build specific skills.9 But only 22 percent say they’ve “actually put in place a campus-wide competency-based framework,” according to Inside Higher Ed.10

To meet their burgeoning workforce needs, more states and businesses are, in fact, even eliminating the requirement that applicants have a college degree for many jobs and shifting instead to skills-based approaches, according to an article published by the National Conference of State Legislatures. It noted that “at least 16 states no longer required a four-year degree for most state jobs,” and, citing data from the Burning Glass Institute,11 that 46 percent of mid-skilled and 31 percent of high-skilled occupations are showing declines in degree requirements in their job postings.12 A report from the Deloitte Center for Government Insights also found that “skills-first or skills-based hiring has been gaining momentum among employers” and referenced data from LinkedIn13 that as many as a fifth of job postings in the United States now don’t require degrees.14

All that said, however, most employers still see the value in a college education. The AAC&U survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents thought that completing a college degree was worth it and that it helped prepare graduates for workplace success.15


1. State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. State Priorities for Higher Education in 2024 (Boulder, CO: SHEEO, 2024).

2. SHEEO, State Priorities.

3. Jessica Blake, “Workforce Development, State Funding Among Higher Ed Leaders’ Policy Priorities,” Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2024,

4. Colleen Flaherty, “Survey: Students Want Career Prep in the Curriculum,” Inside Higher Ed, December 20, 2023,

5. Ginger Christ, “Work Experience, Not College, Prepared Employees for Jobs, Study Finds,” Higher Ed Dive, November 20, 2023,

6. Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, “Employers Value a College Degree but Think Students Lack some Skills, Survey Says,” Higher Ed Dive, November 30, 2023,

7. Collegis Education and UPCEA, Unveiling the Employer’s View: An Employer-Centric Approach to Higher Education Partnerships (Chicago: Collegis Education, 2024).

8. Kathryn Palmer, “Microcredentials on the Rise, but Not at Colleges,” Inside Higher Ed, January 23, 2024,

9. Lana Munip and Rebecca Klein-Collins, Comprehensive Learner Records: Empowering Lifelong Learning in the Digital Age (Indianapolis, IN: CAEL, 2024),

10. Jessica Blake, “Interest in Skill-Based Learning Not Keeping Up with Demand,” Inside Higher Ed, January 9, 2024,

11. The Burning Glass Institute, The Emerging Degree Reset: How the Shift to Skills-Based Hiring Holds the Keys to Growing the U.S. Workforce at a Time of Talent Shortage (The Burning Glass Institute, 2022).

12. Andrew Smalley, “States Consider Elimination of Degree Requirements,” NCSL, October 4, 2023,

13. LinkedIn Economic Graph, Skills-First: Reimagining the Labor Market and Breaking Down Barriers 2023 (LinkedIn, 2023),

14. Amrita Datar, Glenn Davidson, and Blythe Kladney, “Skills-Based Hiring: Opening the Doors to a Stronger Government Workforce,” Deloitte Center for Government Insights, 2023,

15. Bauer-Wolf, “Employers Value a College Degree.”

A New Era of Scrutiny for Colleges and Universities?

A U.S. News and World Report-Harris Poll recently found that “more than 60 percent of the public believes colleges prioritize donors, the press, and other external factors over students.” Indeed, public confidence in higher ed, which had already dropped to just 36 percent according to a Gallup poll last summer, has diminished over the past months in the wake of what many observers viewed as college leaders’ mishandling of campus protests and antisemitism in response to the war between Israel and Hamas.1

After the US Supreme Court ruling in June 2023 against affirmative action in admissions, articles appeared in the news media that signaled concern over higher ed’s standing and reputation. For instance, an opinion piece in Times Higher Education bore the headline, “American universities are entering a new era of mistrust.” In it, Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, and Peter Schmidt, a former writer on affirmative action for the Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote that the court’s ruling illustrated that “politicians, the public, and judges have grown tired of deferring to universities’ opaque decision-making processes.” They concluded that “the majority of justices joined the majority of the public in telling America’s colleges and universities: ‘We don’t have confidence in you anymore,’” and that institutions “are entering a new era of scrutiny, second-guessing, and increased accountability.”2

Then in December, the testimony before Congress of three presidents of top universities became “a flash point that magnified long-standing conservative concerns and criticism,” said Jon Fansmith, senior vice president of government relations at the American Council on Education (ACE), in Inside Higher Ed.3 Many observers have seemed to agree with a Forbes article that the issue has become primarily a “partisan political problem,” not a “trust problem.”4 But, in an opinion piece in the Atlantic, Josh Barro, a writer on politics in the economy, asserted that “neither conservatives nor liberals trust academic leaders, because they are dishonest.”5

Whether for partisan reasons or not, Congress is expected in the coming months to try to increase federal oversight over higher education. Some House lawmakers have already proposed legislation to: (1) ban students who attend institutions with large endowments from taking out federal loans; (2) tax endowments in order to support Israel and Ukraine and fund boarder security efforts; and (3) end federal funding to institutions that require diversity, equity, and inclusion statements. And as Inside Higher Ed noted, the pressures are “only likely to ramp up in 2024” during a presidential election year. According to experts, the publication said, “The growing hostility in Congress toward higher education, particularly elite institutions, represents a shift that could mean more legislation designed to change colleges and universities’ operations and governance, increase federal oversight and accountability, and impose budget cuts.”6

Indeed, CNBC reported that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives told business leaders during a private Zoom call that Congress plans to investigate colleges for “creating an unsafe environment for Jewish students” and “once we prove it … that’s when we defund these universities by cracking down on not backing their student loans, taxing their endowments, and forcing the administration to actually conduct civil-rights investigations.”7

Already, for example, both Republican and Democratic members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have approved legislation that would ban students who attend about 50 wealthy private colleges—those that are subject to a tax on their endowments—from taking out federal student loans, according to another piece in the Atlantic.8 The money, which the institutions would otherwise use to originate and service those student loans, would instead pay for Congress’s proposed expansion of short-term Pell grants, and, if passed, the legislation would take effect July 1, 2024.

The House committee has also proposed the College Cost Reduction Act, which focuses on accountability and affordability and includes, among other provisions, the standardization of financial aid offer letters, limits on student loans, and the replacement of current loan repayment options with a standard 10-year payment plan or an income-driven one, according to Inside Higher Ed. It would also “require accrediting agencies to create standards that measure student achievement as part of their assessment of institutional quality.”9

Some observers think the heightened scrutiny and attempted oversight represents “a sea change in how education policy is viewed in Congress,” Inside Higher Ed reported. ACE’s Fansworth, however, predicted otherwise. “The moment will probably pass at some point, and this will reset, but there’s a lot of electoral politics happening,” he said. “What that translates into is going to be a lot of noise, a lot of chaos, a lot of attention, but probably not a lot of actual policy.”10

Only time will tell which view is correct.


1. Lauren Camera, “Poll: Americans Have Lost Faith in University Leaders,” U.S. News & World Report, December 12, 2023,

2. Anthony P. Carnevale and Peter Schmidt, “American Universities Are Entering a New Era of Mistrust,” Times Higher Education, August 29, 2023,

3. Katherine Knott, “The Gloves Have Come Off’: Lawmakers Ramp Up Scrutiny of Higher Ed,” Inside Higher Ed, December 19, 2023,

4. Derek Newton, “American Colleges Don’t Have a Trust Problem, They Have a Partisan Political Problem,” Forbes, December 30, 2023,

5. Josh Barro, “American Universities Are Post-Truth,” Atlantic, January 12, 2024,

6. Knott, “The Gloves Have Come Off.”

7. Brian Schwartz, “Hearings, Subpoenas, Crackdowns: Inside House Republicans’ Long-Term Plan to ‘Defund’ Elite Universities,” CNBC, December 18, 2023,

8. Adam Harris, “A New Threat to Diversity at Elite Colleges,” Atlantic, December 13, 2023,

9. Katherine Knott, “Republicans Focus on Affordability, Accountability in Higher Ed Overhaul,” Inside Higher Ed, January 25, 2024,

10. Knott, “The Gloves Have Come Off.”

A Faculty Exodus From Some States—Or Perhaps Not

A survey of more than 4,200 faculty members in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina has suggested that professors are voting with their feet and leaving, or planning to leave, states where policymakers are pressuring colleges and universities over issues like tenure and academic freedom.1 But other sources suggest this isn’t the whole story.

As reported by various news media outlets, two-thirds of the respondents to a survey—sponsored by the state conferences of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas, in conjunction with the United Faculty of Florida and the Texas Faculty Association unions—said they would not recommend their state as a good place to work in academe. “Salary and the local political climate were the top reasons cited for seeking another job, with concerns about academic freedom, tenure, and DEI work also topping the list,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.2

An article in USA Today described in depth how legislators and governors in states such as Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia have “enacted or proposed laws and policies that strike at the heart of academic freedom” and “would also ban diversity, equity, and inclusion departments and weaken faculty tenure.” For example, such “political tampering” has “driven away dozens of instructors” at New College in Florida, the publication went on to say. “The exodus has been a stunning, rapidly developing lesson for those who thought state politics would not affect where college instructors choose to live and teach.”3

The New York Times also published a piece specifically on the situation in Florida, in which it quoted Sarah D. Lynne, chair-elect of the University of Florida’s faculty senate, saying that most people who leave “do so for reasons that have nothing to do with politics.” But the Times also described a previous report by the faculty senate that found some departments—such as those in the liberal arts or those concentrating on the arts, music, and dance—were struggling to hire and retain faculty and graduate students because of “the current political climate.” In fact, even more people would leave if the academic job market were more robust, argued one professor whom the Times interviewed.4

Recent history has, in fact, shown that governmental pressures and attacks can encourage professors to abandon their states, USA Today reported. For instance, two years after legislation allowed politically appointed regents in Wisconsin to establish tenure policies, the number of faculty members who had left the University of Wisconsin at Madison increased by more than 50 percent.5

But an article in Inside Higher Ed countered such coverage, questioning how widespread the trend is and whether many of stories in the news media were too alarmist. “There’s a dearth of data on how many faculty members are actually leaving and where they’re going,” it said, citing the pandemic-era Great Resignation and the early retirement programs many institutions have established as “possibly inflating the number of departures.”6

Moreover, according to the publication, the organizations conducting the AAUP survey distributed it through email and social media, and faculty members could fill it out multiple times. And, in some states, a relatively small percentage of faculty responded, so “the results weren’t statistically representative of the feelings of faculty members in those states,” Inside Higher Ed reported.7 It referenced an opinion piece by Oglethorpe University professor Joseph M. Knippenberg, published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a conservative-leaning think tank, in which he argued that just 248 of the respondents were from North Carolina and only 642 were from Florida.8

Barrett Taylor, a professor of counseling and higher education at the University of North Texas, told Inside Higher Ed: “There’s not really a national data set at the level of individual faculty members and so, right now, narratives are what’s out there. With the current data we have, it’s very difficult to adjudicate between these competing narratives.”9


1. American Association of University Professors, “Faculty in Red States Express Concerns over Political Interference. Many Consider Leaving, Survey Finds,” news release (Washington, DC: AAUP, 2023)

2. Megan Zahneis and Audrey Williams June, “In These Red States, Professors Are Eyeing the Exits,” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 7, 2023,

3. Matt Krupnick, “Restrictions on Tenure and Academic Freedom Have College Professors Eyeing the Exits,” USA Today, December 19, 2023,

4. Stephanie Saul, “In Florida’s Hot Political Climate, Some Faculty Have Had Enough,” New York Times, December 4, 2023,

5. Krupnick, “Restrictions on Tenure.”

6. Ryan Quinn, “Are Professors Really Fleeing Universities in Red States?” Inside Higher Ed, January 3, 2024,

7. Quinn, “Are Professors Really Fleeing?”

8. Joseph M. Knippenberg, “Faculty Are Not Fleeing the South,” James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, September 14, 2023,

9. Quinn, “Are Professors Really Fleeing?”

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