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Elective or Compulsory Requirement? The Role of Public Administration Program Curricular in Promoting Diversity

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nkechi Onwuameze
December 14, 2018

If public administration programs continue to offer diversity courses as an elective, forget it, we are not ready to move the needle.

Since public administration programs are responsible for training future leaders, public servants and policymakers that determine the future of the country, they play a critical role in ensuring students are exposed to the topics of diversity, cultural competency and inclusion.   

For some students, the only opportunity they have to be exposed to the topic of diversity and inclusion is at the post-secondary level because at the K-12 level, it seems there is a more concerted effort to“shield” that population of young students from discussing a topic that is viewed as divisive. In the United States, where diversity is now imbibed in the consciousness of many people, mentioning the word still causes “anxiety and conflict.” According to Teena (2012), diversity in America can be best described as a “beneficial bacterium,”which means it is recognized to have several benefits, yet creates significant tension and “curiosity.”

The Value of Diversity

As diversity continues to occupy national headlines,the number of critics who deny its benefits are fast shrinking. A large body of research has demonstrated that diversity has benefits. Here are some of the evidence:

  • Herring’s research demonstrates that racial and gender diversity are associated with increases in sales revenue, greater profits and increased customers.
  • Nishii’s research demonstrates that inclusive workplaces reduce interpersonal bias which increases the likelihood of gender diversity, thereby leading to lowering levels of conflict.
  • Hoogendoorn, Oosterbeek and van Praag’s research shows that student teams with an equal gender mix out perform male-dominated teams in terms of sales and profits.
  • McKinsey’s research found that companies that rank in the top quartile of gender or racial and ethnic diversity mix tend to have better financial returns compared to their national industry medians. The author concludes that “diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.”
  • Larson’s research analyzed 600 business decisions executed by 200 business teams in a variety of companies and found that diverse business teams make the right decisions 87 percent of the time and are able to make decisions two times faster than the less diverse business teams.

These evidence clearly provide the support for organizations to continue to put the effort to achieve diversity. However, as the investment in time and money has not yielded the desired outcome in the workplace, it is important that schools intensify effort to expose students to diversity and inclusion topics. One of the key factors that may help to increase exposure is to incorporate diversity and inclusion topics in the curricular and require students to take these courses.

Diversity Courses in Public Administration Programs

Diversity literature shows the number of diversity courses offered at institutions is rising, which demonstrates an understanding of the value of diversity. According to Sabharwal, Hijal-moghrabi and Royster (2014), the rise in the number of courses also corresponds with the efforts by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration to require diversity and cultural competency in the curricular of MPA programs seeking accreditation.

In a recent publication (2018), Rice argues that the topics of diversity and social equity must be incorporated in public administration curricula because they “facilitate students’ knowledge and increase their overall competency, better preparing them to both manage and work in public organizations in a contemporary multicultural society.” According to the author, including these topics in the curricular ensures that public administrators, managers and public service delivery personnel have the broad education to be effective leaders.

Wyatt-Nichol and Badu Antwi-Boasiako (2018) suggest that a key step in achieving social equity in public policy and administration is to raise consciousness of the topic through offering diversity curricular. The authors note that teaching diversity literature reveals that research focus on two main areas– first, the offering of stand-alone courses by pubic administration programs; second, the integration of the topic of diversity into existing courses. While these two areas are important to consider in training these future public servants, programs that make these topics optional, risk losing significant number of students who are likely to benefit from the diversity courses.

In achieving equity and diversity, which has so far seem to be an elusive goal, public administration programs have the responsibility to expose students to diversity, cultural competency and inclusion courses by making the courses available as well as requiring students to take them.

Author: Nkechi Onwuameze works for the Illinois Board of Higher Education and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Springfield. She earned a Ph.D. in sociology of education at the University of Iowa. Her research interest include educational inequality, gender discrimination in the workplace, workplace diversity. [email protected] or Twitter: @Nkobis

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