Do Diversity Courses Make a Difference? A Critical Examination of College Diversity Coursework and Student Outcomes

  • Nida DensonEmail author
  • Nicholas A. Bowman
Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR, volume 32)


Colleges and universities can play a critical role in shaping intergroup dynamics in an era of increased racial heterogeneity in the United States. One avenue through which institutions can prepare college students for participation in an equitable and just society is through diversity courses. Diversity coursework holds a unique position on many campuses as a shared – and sometimes introductory – experience to issues of difference for college students. While an increasing number of studies explore how diversity courses might affect college students, no systematic review has considered the extent to which diversity courses predict a broad range of student outcomes in higher education. Our search and selection criteria resulted in 92 primary studies examining the relationship between diversity courses and student outcomes over the span of 25 years (i.e., 1990–2014). The majority of the research reported mixed findings, which is due to the variation in the outcome(s) examined, diversity course(s) examined, research design, and analytic approach. The mixed findings are almost exclusively a combination of positive and nonsignificant results, with only a handful of significant negative relationships across hundreds—and perhaps over 1000—effect sizes reviewed here.


Systematic review Research synthesis Diversity courses Curricular diversity Diversity requirements Diverse curriculum Diversity inclusivity Ethnic studies course Women’s studies course Intergroup contact Conditional effects Moderation effects College students Student outcomes College impact 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social Sciences & PsychologyWestern Sydney UniversityPenrithAustralia
  2. 2.University of IowaIowa CityUSA

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