Assessing the impact of diversity courses on students' values, attitudes and beliefs
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Overview of the Study
Review of Related Literature
Summary, Implications, Recommendations, and Conclus ions
2004 CIRP Survey Instrument
2008 Western University Senior Survey Instrument
Organizing Framework Combined with Theoretical
Variables Used to M easure the Extent of Values and
Western University Diversity Committee Guidelines
for Designation as a Diversity Course Requirement
Western University Committee on Diversity
Requirement Courses (DRC)
A ppendix G:
Western University Diversity Course Requirement
Role and Mission of Western University
All Variables Used in the Study, Including Recodes,
Value Labels and Coding
Diversity Courses Off ered at Western University
2004 - 2008
Notes Regarding Diversity Course Syllabi
Number of Students in the Transcript Data That Took
a Course by Course Number
Information on the Diversity Course Variables
List of Tables
Theory of Diversity and Learning (Hurtado, 2007)
Variables Used in Empirical Studies on Diversity Courses
2004 Enter First Year Student Characteristics
Descriptive Data for Student Partic ipants by Racial/Ethnic
Value Labels, Scales and Coding of Senior Survey Variables
Potential Variables to Indicate Major
Composite Measures with Factor Loadings and Reliabilities
Divers ity Courses Taken Through 40 Courses
Typology of First Diversity Course Taken
Research Questions and Corresponding Statistical Analysis
Descriptive Data for Student Participants by Racial/Ethnic
T able 4.2:
Composite Measures with Factor Loadings and Reliabilities
Regression Coefficients for the Impact of the First Time
a Student Took a Diversity Course Taken Over 40 Courses
on Measures of Humanism, Individualism, Artistic Orienta tion,
and Materialism (without Major)
Regression Coefficients for the Impact of the Total Number
of Diversity Courses Taken over 40 Courses on Measures of
Humanism, Individualism, Artistic Orientation, and Materialism
Tab le 4.5:
Regression Coefficients for the Impact on Measures of
Humanism, Individualism, Artistic Orientation, and
Materialism, Depending on the Level of Complexity of
the First Diversity Course Taken by a Student, per the
Diversity Course Typology ( Cole & Sundt, 2008) (without
Frequency of the Variable "The Year in Which the First
Diversity Course was Taken"
Frequency of the Variable "The Number o f Diversity Courses
Taken by the Students"
Frequency of the Variable "The Typology Level of the first
Diversity Course Taken"
The Overall Number of Diversity Courses Taken per Year
and Overall Number of Diversity Course s Taken from Each
List of Figures
Typology of Diversity Courses (Cole & Sundt, 2008)
Research Model for Examining Diversity Course Impact on
Students’ Values, Attitudes and Beliefs
Research Model for Ex amining Diversity Course Impact on
Students’ Values, Attitudes and Beliefs
Globalization and changing demographics in the United States have resulted in the need for higher education to prepare students for a global society. To this end, coll ege and universities have responded in a number of ways including in the curriculum with required diversity courses. However the impact of this intervention on students is an area in need of further study. As a result, this quantitative study explores the impact of required diversity courses on measures of students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs.
A large, private research university in the western United States was used the site for this study. Students in the 2004 cohort were given two quantitative colleg e experience surveys, one before they began in 2004 and a follow - up survey in 2008. This data was used along with adminissions and transcript data to comprise the data set for the study.
The findings suggest that diversity course impact is significant and measurable as a college student experience. More specifically, the total number of diversity courses taken by a student is significant on two measures (Humanism and Individualism) of students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs. Both speak to preparing student s for a global society in terms of promoting awareness and becoming civically engaged. Additionally, there were interesting findings in terms of the background characteristics of students where white students were negatively impacted by diversity courses. Finally, the impact of diversity related experiences was shown to
be significant and in some cases negatively impact students’ values, attitudes and beliefs.
Implications for future study include: 1) determining the critical number of diversity courses nee ded to maximize student impact 2) comparing within and between groups to determine differential impact of required diversity courses 3) reviewing the content of all undergraduate courses per the Diversity Typology to find if diversity content exists across the curriculum, 4) reviewing the role of diversity related experiences in magnifying or hindering the impact of diversity courses and 5) examining the classroom dynamic between students and faculty to determine the influence on course outcomes.
Chapter 1: Overview of the Study
If the mission of higher education is to prepare students with the skills necessary for functioning in a complex and increasingly diverse society, then an institutional commitment to structural diversity, classroom diversity, and enhancing opportunities for informal interactional diversity all become central to this educational process (Hurtado et al, p.178).
Introduction of the Problem
The goal of higher education reflected in many institutional missions is one that prepares stu dents for a global society (Hogan & Mallot, 2005). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) asserts “given the changing demographics of the US and the importance of issues of diversity in this nation’s history…every college student sho uld learn about issues of diversity in the US as part of their undergraduate curriculum” (Humphreys, 2000, retrieved on 8/15/09 at http://www.diversityweb.org/digest/F00/survey.html ). Additionally, many institutions in the AAC&U American Commitments Projec t purport that a liberal education is central to the role of higher education, namely to expose students to diverse individuals and experiences so that they might then be better prepared to engage in a global society. The goal of a liberal education in hig her education is further described by Hurtado (2007) as “ to move students from their provincial worldviews” (p.189). Educational experiences are intended to impact students so that they will have interactions with individuals who are different from them. T he goal is that this will in turn impact their values, attitudes, and beliefs to being more open and
tolerant regarding future interactions. For this reason, measuring the extent to which this is occurring as a result of diversity courses is important and relevant.
The impact of diversity courses in higher education at the undergraduate level is the focus of this study. The extent of the impact of diversity courses on students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs were examined. This chapter first provides an ove rview of the identified problems in higher education regarding diversity and then discusses the context of diversity courses, including the argument concerning the need for this study. Additionally, the research questions and importance of the study are co vered as are key terminology and the assumptions made by the researcher.
Background of the Problem
Over the past several decades, diversity has become an increasingly prominent issue in higher education that has been manifested in admissions, curriculum an d in the purpose of higher education. Discussions about diversity have been influenced by and coincided with a dramatic shift in demographics in the United States and in higher education (Tatum, 2003). Institutions of higher education, in recognizing the c hanging needs of students and society, have responded to diversity through multiple avenues. For example, the mission statements of many institutions have reflected societal changes by including commitments to diversity and in some cases social justice (Hu mphreys, 1997). Additionally, institutions have focused on correcting long standing social injustice through affirmative action both in student admissions and in faculty hiring.
These college and university policies have led to legal cases opposing the pol icy - based inclusion of diversity (Hopwood v. Texas,
78 F.3d 932 ( 1996 ) and at the University of Michigan ( Grutter v. Bollinger , 539 U.S. 306 (2003). A major impact of these legal cases regarding affirmative action is that they have resulted in the need for a scholarly effort to define the importance of diversity in higher education (Gurin , 1999; Shaw, 2005; Smith & Shonfeld, 2000; Hurtado, 2001; Gurin et al, 2002; Chang, 2001).
The resulting scholarly effort has included categorizing and defining different types of diversity exposure in higher education: (i.e. structural, informal interact ional and diversity initiatives both curricular and co - curricular) as well as their impact on students’ educational gains (Gurin, 1999; Hurtado, 2007). Much of the scholarship on the impact of diversity is included under the heading of college impact liter ature, an area which has been well studied and documented (Feldman & Newcomb, 1969; Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). These studies of college impact discuss the overall experience of students as well as the experiences, individuals, and environm ents that influence student outcomes. This study is situated in the genre of college impact literature and focuses on the impact of diversity courses on students.
Among the genre of college impact literature, specific aspects of college have been examined such as the impact of student body diversity. One type of diversity studied includes specific numbers of different types of students and is frequently described as “structural diversity” (Gurin, 1999). Several empirical studies have examined the impact of structural diversity on student outcomes including the impact
of diverse students and faculty (Milem, 1991, 1998) as well as interactional diversity concerning the impact of diverse peer interactions on student outcomes (Antonio, 1998, 2001a; Chang et al, 2006; Whitt, 1999; Cole, 2007). In addition, researchers in higher education have focused on the different impacts of diversity including the importance of diversity in higher education (Antonio, 2003; Gurin, 1999; Gurin & Nagda, 2006; Shaw, 2005; Smith & Schonfeld, 2000) and the impact of diversity on the college environment (Hurtado et al, 2003). Additionally, Hurtado (2007) discusses linking diversity with missions of higher education as both a goal for all of higher education but also at the instituti on level. The linkage of diversity and mission at the institution level is relevant to the scope of this study.
Hurtado (2007) describes how diversity can be linked with the mission of higher education through the goal of preparing students for democratic outcomes. Democratic outcomes include specific behaviors such as participating in a pluralistic society and engaging with a diverse population. At the institution level the linkage between diversity and the missions of many institutions in higher education is manifested in many areas. The first includes structural diversity whereby institutions recruit a variety of students and faculty to create a diverse population on campus. Additionally, institutional agents create opportunities to maximize interactions between students as well as between students and faculty. Interactions can occur informally inside and outside of the classroom as well formally within the curriculum, which Gurin (1999) places under the category of “diversity initiatives.”
Gurin (1999) de scribes that diversity initiatives encompass both curricular and co - curricular activities that allow students to interact with and discuss diversity. One example of a diversity initiative is required diversity courses as part of a general education curricu lum. Many institutions have adopted this practice with the goal of developing global citizens (Humphreys, 1997). Chang (2002) states that diversity requirement courses help to achieve “immediate and broader goals of higher education” (p.39). The AAC&U (Hum phreys, 1997) describes that the broader goals of higher education are pluralism and democratic values.
In this study the researcher explored the interaction of diversity and university mission at the curricular level through a specific diversity initiativ e, required diversity courses.
Statement of the Problem
The benefits of diversity have been chronicled (Gurin, 1999; Gurin et al, 2002); however, the specific impact of diversity initiatives in general and diversity courses, in particular, is an area in ne ed of further exploration (Chang, 2001; Hogan & Mallot, 2005). The following paragraphs highlight the gaps in the literature as they relate to diversity course impact, as well as situate diversity courses in the context of institutional missions and connec t the theoretical foundation to the need for this study.
College impact studies address a number of areas including student satisfaction, student learning, cognitive growth, and values and attitude shifts (Astin, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). It is the latter, values and attitude shifts, that is
the focal area of college impact examined in this study. Values and attitudes are important to study because the extent to which students will interact with someone different from themselves is informed by th eir values, attitudes and beliefs. Additionally, they are a way to conceptualize changes in students as a result of the college experience beyond traditional academic measures. The importance of students’ values, attitudes and beliefs is demonstrated by th eir inclusion in two national quantitative instruments used to measure the college student experience. The College Student Experience Questionnaire (CSEQ) and the Cooperative Institute Research Project (CIRP) both have multiple items to measure students’ s elf reported values, attitudes, and beliefs. The two instruments can be used individually or together to measure changes in students as a result of specific aspects of the college experience.
The relevant subset of college impact studies that address the i mpact of diversity requirements on students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs have been confined to a number of areas. For example Chang (1999, 2002) and Hogan and Mallot (2005) explore student levels of racial prejudice before and after taking a required di versity course. Nelson - Laird et al. (2005) inquire into the impact of required diversity courses on a student’s social action engagement and Whitt et al. (2001) examine diversity course impact on a student’s openness to diversity.
McFalls and Cobb - Roberts (2001) extend the study of diversity course impact to the values, attitudes, and beliefs of graduate students in regards to the impact diversity courses have on reducing resistance to diversity. While these studies provide a foundation for
examining the im pact of required diversity courses, this is still an emergent area of study where the impact of these courses on students is not fully known (Hogan & Mallot, 2005).
The identified gap in the literature highlights the need for more examination of diversity courses; however, it does not contextualize the research. Diversity courses fit within the broader goals of higher education. The AAC&U purports that a goal of higher education is to prepare students for a global society, one that is pluralistic and democr atic (Humphreys, 1997). Tatum (2003) describes that it is even more important for institutions of higher education to address diversity because of the segregated nature of the United States where students have been limited in their interactions “with those racially, ethnically, or religiously different from them” (p. 212). Diversity courses are a place in the curriculum where the broader goals of higher education and student outcomes concerning values, attitudes, and beliefs intersect. Students’ values, att itudes, and beliefs provide a measure of the impact of required diversity courses but also to the extent an institution’s mission statement has been realized. As a result, diversity courses were important to study for two compelling reasons: the gap in the literature concerning the full impact of diversity courses and how diversity courses may or may not actualize the stated importance of diversity in university mission statements.
Theory further supports the importance of values, attitudes and beliefs and provides a lens by which to view the impact of diversity courses. The theoretical foundation for this study is divided into two groups of theories. The first describes
why values, attitudes and beliefs are salient for traditional college age students and t he second discusses the extent that the college environment impacts values, attitudes and beliefs.
Psychosocial and cognitive theory provides an underpinning that describes how adolescents learn or are impacted by certain environments, experiences, and pee rs. Many theorists examine the development of adolescents and suggest that the traditional college age of 18 - 22 is an ideal time for the development of values to occur (Erikson, 1980; Alwin et al, 1991; Ruble, 1994). For example, theorists such as Erikson (1980) suggest that late adolescence is a unique time of development where an individual first has the cognitive complexity to address the question of “who am I?” Alwin et al (1991) suggests that this is also a time where individuals’ political and social views are “malleable.” As a result, the college environment should theoretically have an impact on traditional age college students. The extent to which college can impact students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs is described by two theories of attitude ac quisition.
The two theories utilized in this study to examine changes in values, attitudes, and beliefs are Symbolic Politics Theory (Sears, 1993) and the Impressionable Years Model (Jennings & Stoker, 1999). Both theories describe the impact of college on students’ values, attitudes and beliefs, but differ in how they view the malleability of students as they enter college. Symbolic Politics Theory (Sears, 1993) is a theory of “attitude acquisition” that examines political predispositions over the lifespan . Sears (1993) describes that attitudes exist on a
continuum from a non - attitude to one that is crystallized. An individual’s attitudes are influenced by a number of factors including homogeneity of the environment, information flow, and the ability to pr actice the attitude (Sidanius et al., 2008). Symbolic Politics Theory is based on the assumption that young adults have some crystallized attitudes from their early years that are persistent through adulthood. Those attitudes that are not yet crystallized may reach a mature level of development depending on the factors above. The Impressionable Years Model differs slightly in describing that young adults have much weaker attitudes than adults and thus are “especially vulnerable to influence” (Sidanius et al ., 2008). Late adolescence is described as a critical time for development and that “shifting of personal values and ideologies is to be expected” (Sidanius et al., 2008).
Together, these theories describe traditional age students at the post secondary ed ucation level and the extent that college impacts their values, attitudes, and beliefs. What remains unexplored however is the malleability of students’ values, attitudes and beliefs when exposed to a specific intervention (such as diversity courses). As a result, the extent of the impact of diversity courses on students’ values, attitudes and beliefs is the focus of this inquiry.
Additionally, mission statements of institutions in higher education are explicitly including diversity and diversity courses wi th the goal of preparing students to be more tolerant of the global, pluralistic society they inhabit. The question then becomes examining the extent to which students are impacted by a specific diversity course through the lens of values, attitudes, and b eliefs. The
problem is further supported by the theoretical foundation that suggests that students should be cognitively and developmentally ready for the challenges and benefits of diversity during traditional college age; however, the extent of the impac t is the conversation of contrasting theories. As a result, not only is there an institutional vision for diversity and preparing students for a diverse society but students of traditional college age are primed cognitively to engage in issues of diversity even though they might have had little previous experience.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to examine the identified gaps in the literature regarding the extent of the impact of required diversity courses on measures of students’ values , attitudes, and beliefs. This is supported by relevant theory and accomplished through an examination of the intersection of college impact literature, university mission and the goals of higher education at a single institution on the west coast of the U nited States, Western University.
This study extends from work on diversity course impact (Chang, 1999, 2002; Hogan & Mallot, 2005; Nelson - Laird et al., 2005; Whitt et al., 2001) to include the impact of required diversity courses taken on students’ values , attitudes and beliefs. Gurin’s (1999) work on the importance of diversity and the types of diversity in higher education is also extended. By connecting the foundation provided by Gurin (1999) this study connects the university mission with diversity ini tiatives through measuring the extent of the impact of a curricular intervention on
students. The curricular intervention (diversity courses) is situated within the context of university mission and goals.
The research questions used in this study are form ed based on the background and statement of the problem. The research questions are further informed through the review of literature in the examination of relevant theoretical and empirical work. The review of literature provides the foundation for explo ring the extent of the impact of diversity requirement courses on students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The research questions of this study address the identified problems and gaps by examining the impact of diversity courses on measures of students’ values, attitudes and beliefs as a stated goal of diversity requirements at the chosen single site institution. In particular the research questions for this study inquire:
Are there differences in the kinds of impacts on students’ experiences in diversity courses depending on when in their academic sequence they took their first diversity course?
Are there differences depending on the total number of diversity courses taken over five years/ 40 courses?
Are there difference s depending on the level of complexity of the first diversity course taken by a student, per the Diversity Course Typology (Cole & Sundt, 2008)?
Within each of the above questions:
Are there differences depending on a student’s major (aggregated)?
Are ther e differences depending on demographic characteristics (i.e. race and gender)?
Importance of the Study
Diversity has been demonstrated to be important to a wide range of educational outcomes (Gurin, 1999). This study makes a contribution to the body of lit erature on the importance of diversity and specifically diversity initiatives through an examination of the impact of diversity courses. The extent of the impact of diversity courses extends from prior empirical work to include university mission. The impa ct of diversity courses is viewed through the context of university mission at the individual institution level as well as in the larger discussion of the purpose of higher education in society. The extent of the impact of a specific curricular interventio n (diversity courses) on students’ values, attitudes and beliefs is examined to determine if the university mission is being realized.
An assumption is made that students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs as impacted by diversity requirement cour ses can be measured in a linear way over five years/ 40 courses in college. In addition, a methodological assumption is made that this can be done using multiple regressions to identify the impact of the single course on their values, attitudes, and belief s.
Definition of Terms
Key terminology and acronyms frequently used in this study are identified and defined below.
Association of College and Universities
Addressing the current pluralistic nature of the United States while also addressing past issues of injustice, inequality, to create a more democratic pluralistic society (Humphreys, 1997).
“Represents an organization in interrelated beliefs that are all focused on a specific object or situation” (Rokeach, 1960; in Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005 p. 271).
Individual student self reported thoughts on what is important to them. A collection of beliefs are reflections of “attitudes and values” (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005, p. 272).
Cooperative Institute Research Program: a survey facilitated by UCLA that measures student views and satisfaction.
“Those courses that have content and methods of instruction that are inclusive of the diversity found in society” (Nelson Laird et al., 2005). Additionally, they
will be defined by the standards that the site institution, Western University, uses to approve all diversity or social issue courses; see Appendix G for site specifics information. It is also relevant to define “society” more broadly to include not only United States specific content in courses but also an international focus (Humphreys, 1997).
“ A political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modifica tion of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties” (Retrieved July 21, 2009, from Dictionary.com).
“ A co ndition in which minority groups participate fully in the dominant society, yet maintain their cultural differences.” “A doctrine that a society benefits from such a condition”
(Retrieved July 21, 2009, from Dictionary.com).
“Generalized standards of the means and ends of human existence that transcend attitudes toward
specific objects and situations (Rokeach, 1960; in Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005 p. 271).
Organization of the Study
There are several primary areas addressed in the literature review a s well as in the methodology that define the context of research on students in regards to diversity requirement courses. The review of literature in chapter two brings together various theories and empirical research studies to provide the historical foun dation to inform the impact of diversity courses on students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs. The chapter is structured using a primary organizational frame, the Theory of Diversity and Learning (Hurtado, 2007; Hurtado et al., 2003; Gurin et al, 2002). Ast in’s (1984, 1993) I - E - O research model is used as well to organize variables in general but is described in more detail in chapter three.
The Theory of Diversity and Learning is used to introduce the types of diversity exposure in the college environment a s well as to provide the theoretical foundation in regards to learning theory (i.e. Erikson, 1980), values and attitudes (Sears & Valentino, 1993) and environmental (Astin, 1984, 1993) theory. These theories and data points inform the outcome of this study regarding students’ values and attitudes.