As the work of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in higher education has expanded, several institutions have recognized the need to create a clearer and more comprehensive pathway for individuals interested in serving as DEI advocates and leaders. To meet the growing demand, many are developing distinctive degrees, certificates, and other programs that help graduate students, faculty, and workforce professionals develop the required skills.

Programs at the University of Kentucky (UK), Cornell University, Tufts University, Purdue University, and State University of New York (SUNY) at Old Westbury, which range from professional certifications to doctoral degrees, are just a few examples of the emerging field of DEI education. While sharing overarching goals, these efforts serve a variety of constituents such as corporate managers looking to address their own biases and help build more inclusive work environments or those who plan to pursue leadership roles in academic diversity offices.

DEI-focused degree programs like those at UK serve as pathways to chief diversity officer (CDO) and other DEI leadership roles. Certificate programs in the same vein can serve as tools for existing CDOs to hone their skills or for business leaders to expand their DEI knowledge. The necessity for these programs is apparent given the rapid growth of the CDO role in recent years, which demonstrates institution- and industrywide commitments to DEI values.

As of 2023, more than half of Fortune 500 companies had a senior diversity officer and over 60 hired their first CDO this year, according to McKinsey & Company, a management consultant firm. Among those surveyed in the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) 2023 State of the CDO report, 68 percent worked at an institution that has had a senior diversity officer position for five years or less, with 41 percent of those roles being created in the past two years.

University of Kentucky

At UK’s College of Education, the PhD in studies in higher education with a specialization in DEI serves as an important tool in training future generations of DEI leaders in academia. The first-of-its-kind doctoral degree program offers a comprehensive curriculum that prepares individuals for high-level administrative positions in academia.

Scholars enrolled in the DEI concentration, which was created in partnership with INSIGHT, also participate in the Senior Diversity Officer Leadership Graduate Certificate. The combined PhD and graduate certificate program help enrollees build competencies around NADOHE standards, which include advancing DEI programming, addressing bias incidents, and reducing barriers for underrepresented faculty across college campuses.

In announcing the program in 2021, Kelly Bradley, PhD, chair of UK’s Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, said colleges and universities are looking for senior diversity officers who can serve as change agents and bring innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking to their campuses. The UK College of Education’s doctoral program focuses on applying innovative DEI approaches across complex institutions.

Through the program’s partnership with INSIGHT, students can receive scholarship funding. NADOHE and the college’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative offer assistantships and connections with DEI professionals in higher education for mentorship.

Cornell University

Cornell offers several certificate programs in DEI for working professionals. One example is the 10-week Dialogue for Change Certificate, which emphasizes cultural awareness and creating equitable work environments. Key takeaways include the exploration of human connection and social identity, building intergroup dialogue skills, and the ability to implement DEI-focused strategies, says Adi Grabiner-Keinan, PhD, executive director for academic DEI education at Cornell and director of the Intergroup Dialogue Project. The program works to broaden perspectives and teach how to create a meaningful shared vision.

Colleges and universities are looking for senior diversity officers who can serve as change agents and bring innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking to their campuses.

“Our goals are to develop participants’ awareness around the four development areas and to strengthen their capacity to make meaningful change at personal, interpersonal and institutional levels,” she says. “Skills such as active and generative listening, strategic questioning, purposeful sharing, perspective taking, withholding judgment, and questioning assumptions allow us to lead, communicate, and collaborate effectively.”

Cornell also offers an eight-week Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate designed for team leaders, executives, and other professionals. Core lessons include assessing and enhancing employee engagement, improving organizational culture, recognizing unconscious bias, understanding crucial dimensions of diversity, addressing stereotypes and prejudices, and implementing ethical standards.

Tufts University

Tufts University offers both a certificate and a master’s degree in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) Leadership. The certificate program is tailored for established professionals seeking to lead strategic organizational change. It provides essential tools and concepts for success in DEIJ roles and is designed to accommodate busy schedules, offering flexible online or hybrid formats with evening courses.

The DEIJ Leadership master’s-level program delves deeper into areas such as critical race theory, historical contexts of DEI, organizational leadership, program design, and measurement. It is designed for those who aspire to DEI leadership roles and offers flexible scheduling options that allow students to complete the degree in 15 to 24 months.

Both programs emphasize the importance of promoting equitable cultures, understanding unconscious bias, and addressing diversity-related challenges in various spheres of influence.

Purdue University

The Certificate for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine at Purdue offers a comprehensive program for individuals within the veterinary medical community including academic administration, faculty, staff, students, and practicing professionals. The certificate program is designed to promote diversity and inclusion within the field of veterinary medicine.

Students have the flexibility to complete the program through a blend of online modules, real-world engagement, and reflective assignments. Modules cover a wide range of DEI topics including microaggressions, persons with disabilities, generational diversity, the LGBTQ+ community, and more. The program encourages participants to engage with their community through volunteering, attending events, and writing capstone essays that demonstrate their commitment to advancing DEI ideals.

“Our goals are to develop participants’ awareness … and to strengthen their capacity to make meaningful change at personal, interpersonal and institutional levels.”

Adi Grabiner-Keinan, PhD

Upon successful completion, graduates receive a certificate and continuing education credits. Additionally, scholarships are available for faculty, staff, interns, and residents at member institutions, offering the opportunity to register with a partner at no extra cost, making the program accessible and impactful for all members of the veterinary medical community.

SUNY at Old Westbury

The SUNY at Old Westbury recently launched a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice in the Workplace microcredential through its school of professional studies. The program provides a foundational understanding of DEI concepts such as race, ethnicity, gender expression, religion, culture, and disability, and the competencies necessary to advance inclusive and diverse workplaces.

Participants learn about key historical events and movements that have shaped diverse identities and helped create a more equitable society. They also critically assess power structures, institutions, unconscious biases, microaggressions, and relationships in the workplace through a DEI lens. The curriculum explores legislation and policies impacting DEI and labor management, and those who complete the program will have the skills to evaluate work environments and propose best practices to make organizations and industries more inclusive.

This article was published in our November/December 2023 issue.