How Florida colleges help support the $9.5 billion DEI industry

Schools in the State University System of Florida recently reported expenditures in diversity, equity, and inclusion, revealing universities’ roles as buyers and sellers in the $9.5 billion DEI industry.

'Though diversity training workshops have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation,’ a recent op-ed argued.

Schools in the State University System of Florida (SUSF) recently reported their annual expenditures in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), revealing universities’ roles as both buyers and sellers in the multi-billion dollar DEI industry. 

The Independent Florida Alligator shared document of SUSF schools’ DEI expenses, a response to a request from Gov. Ron DeSantis that SUSF and schools in the Florida College System send their expenses by January 13. 

In order to help with DEI-related trainings for students, faculty, and staff, universities often hire outside organizations that require them to pay for consultants and for licensing and training costs, though much of the funding is internal to the universities, as well. This is a “DEI industry” that grew by $2 billion over the past two years. 

The University of Florida (UF) spent $40,974 to develop the third in a series of optional DEI courses, according to the document obtained by The Independent Florida Alligator. “Championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” is an initiative of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and is a six-hour opportunity for faculty and staff to learn “Anti-Racism, Privilege, and Reducing Bias.” 

[RELATED: SUNY to require DEI and social justice courses in fall 2023]

Another professional development opportunity, Gators Together, allows UF faculty and staff to receive a DEI certificate after taking “Managing Hidden Biases that Affect the Hiring Process,” “LGBTQ+ Inclusive Gators,” and other courses

The University of South Florida (USF), which Campus Reform identified as the biggest DEI spender in the SUSF, offers a professional development opportunity that costs the university $41,444. In Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy (IEP), faculty can complete four modules on “Identity and Bias,” “Fostering an Inclusive Classroom Community,” “Difficult Conversations,” and “Inclusive Frameworks.”

Florida’s universities also spend six figures to operate DEI offices, such as USF’s $844,000 spent on programming, training, and services. The document shows that the University of Central Florida (UCF) similarly has “workshops, symposiums and certificate programs to faculty, staff, students and community and industry partners aimed at developing competencies needed to thrive in a competitive, diverse, and interconnected workforce and society.” 

UCF’s workshops include “Understanding Micromessages,” billed as “one of the most frequently requested workshops facilitated by UCF’s Office of Diversity Education and Training.” 

“Micromessages are signals that we send to one another through our actions and behaviors. Although these messages may be ‘small,’ their impact can be tremendous,” a training description reads. 

“This conversation on micromessages includes an in-depth look at both micro-inequities and micro-affirmations. Microaggressions are brief exchanges that send denigrating messages to marginalized groups and also are examined in detail in this workshop.”

While paying administrators to conduct internal trainings, universities offer similar trainings for outside organizations. USF’s Muma College of Business has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certificate, which 63,000 people earned after paying $99 and completing online modules and quizzes. 

UCF offers two levels of DEI certificates for “faculty, staff, students and community and industry partners.” The Office of Diversity Education and Training also “provide[s] keynote addresses, serve on panels and provide consultation services,” according to its website. 

[RELATED: UMich prepares to launch DEI 2.0]

Training and certifications at SUSF schools–and the outside consultation sought by Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Florida State University (FSU) with organizations such as StirFry and the National Coalition Building Institute–belong to the $9.5 billion DEI industry. 

The industry, as MSNBC reported, is expected to grow to $15.4 billion by 2026. 

FSU’s “voluntary, non-mandatory workshop” with the National Coalition Building Institute, a spokesperson told Campus Reform, is “Building Effective Relationships Across Group Lines.”

Despite the growth of these programs, a recent op-ed in The New York Times reignited conversations about the efficacy of DEI training. 

“Though diversity training workshops have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects,” journalist and podcaster Jesse Singal wrote. 

In fact, Singal argued, these trainings can “do more harm than good.” He cited research suggesting “that diversity training that is mandatory or that threatens dominant groups’ sense of belonging or makes them feel blamed may elicit negative backlash or exacerbate biases.”

The Heritage Foundation cited the same scholars, Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, who published research in Anthropology Now showing that “hundreds of studies dating back to the 1930s suggest that anti-bias training doesn’t reduce bias, alter behavior, or change the workplace.” 

“What is to be done? Public money should not be used for DEI offices in public-school districts or on college campuses,” the Heritage Foundation argued. “Now that we see the null effects that DEI trainings have on those exposed to them, there is one more reason to dismiss the DEI orthodoxy.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.