Dive Brief:

  • Oklahoma’s education secretary late last month gave the state public college system nine days to assemble a decade-long history of diversity, equity and inclusion spending, matching similar demands from policymakers nationwide who are intent on rooting out perceived indoctrination in higher ed.
  • Ryan Walters, who was also elected in November as the state’s education superintendent, wrote to Allison Garrett, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, on Jan. 23, ordering her by Feb. 1 to provide a 10-year breakdown of DEI costs.
  • Garrett met that deadline, writing to Walker on Wednesday that the system directed hundreds of employees to compile the report “in a very short amount of time during the busy start of the spring semester.” The system earmarked about $10.2 million during the 2022-23 fiscal year for diversity initiatives — 0.29% of total higher ed expenditures. Over a decade, state money for diversity initiatives equated to one-tenth of 1% of spending.

Dive Insight:

A trend continues of policymakers more frequently stepping into higher education matters traditionally reserved for administrators and faculty. This has been on full display in Florida, where the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has made reshaping public postsecondary education part of his platform before a presumed 2024 presidential run.

He installed several conservatives to the trustee board of New College of Florida, a public liberal arts institution. The trustees recently ousted the college’s president, replacing her with former state education commissioner Richard Corcoran, a DeSantis ally. 

Similar to the situation in Oklahoma, DeSantis told Florida’s public colleges in December to detail their spending on diversity, equity, inclusion and critical race theory, later saying he wished to purge such programs from state institutions. 

Walters, in his campaign for superintendent, similarly ran on a pledge to excise what he deemed widespread liberal indoctrination from public education.

His office has said in statements to news media that Walker’s request to the Oklahoma system sought to determine how deep such indoctrination runs as the state plans for the next fiscal year.

Of the more than $10 million earmarked for DEI programs in the current fiscal year, about $3.7 million came from the state, or 0.11% of the state’s higher ed spending. 

The system’s two-year colleges spent the most on DEI, roughly $4.8 million, compared to its two research institutions, which devoted $3.7 million, and its four-year regional institutions, which earmarked $1.7 million. 

Diversity spending has inched up from $7.2 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year. 

Garrett, the chancellor, wrote in her reply to Walters that DEI efforts at public colleges benefit a host of disadvantaged groups, including veterans, first-generation students and those who are racial minorities.

She wrote certain laws, like the American with Disabilities Act, mandate some diversity practices. And system accreditors such as the Higher Learning Commission require institutions to demonstrate support for DEI to maintain their status.

“Our goal as a state system is to meet the needs of all the students we serve, helping them in every way we can to enroll, persist and complete their degrees successfully to become the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, and computer programmers of tomorrow,” Garrett wrote.