How much is spent on DEI administration at Utah’s public colleges and universities? Here’s a look.

Numbers provided by the Utah System of Higher Education provide a glimpse at staffing and spending of the main diversity offices on campus.

State leaders looking to dismantle diversity offices at the state’s public colleges and universities have repeatedly pointed to the same concern: how much those efforts cost.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox questioned in December if too much was being spent on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs in higher education — particularly on staffing — with too little return.

“If you go back and look at the number of people in these offices, it’s just astounding to me. I had no idea there were these many people working in these offices,” Cox said. He then asked: “What are we using that funding for? Is there something better we can use it for to actually get the outcomes that everybody is hoping for?”

Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden, who has been working on legislation for this session, has similarly questioned the spending, which comes from public taxpayer funds.

Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, has said her bill, HB261, which would eliminate race- and gender-based DEI offices and replace them with generalized “student success” programs, is not trying to defund universities. Rather, she said the idea is to shift the money toward supporting students from all backgrounds.

(The fiscal note attached to her bill says she anticipates the state could save at least $163,000 annually by eliminating “personnel expenditures currently related to issues prohibited by this bill.”)

With the session now underway and the focus on DEI, The Salt Lake Tribune requested data from the state’s eight public colleges and universities to learn how much is going to those offices, how many staff there are and how the cost compares to overall university operations and spending.

The Utah System of Higher Education provided accounting that shows a little more than $3.2 million total spent annually on DEI administrative personnel and operations across the state.

But the numbers are limited.

That’s because each school defines DEI differently — and differently, too, from state lawmakers, who say the total expense is $11 million.

Either number is less than half of a percent of any of the operating budget at any public university in the state.

The difference between numbers highlights, though, that these aren’t expenses universities and the state are regularly looking at. It took the Utah System of Higher Education two weeks to compile the information. And it’s limited because a more expansive look at all diversity efforts hasn’t been tabulated before for the state (and even for most schools, on an individual institution level).

Here’s a breakdown of the finances that we do have.

What does that cost capture? And what isn’t included?

The totals from each school only capture how much is spent on a university or college’s official DEI — or similarly named — office and the administration of those.

At the University of Utah, for instance, that would mean only the main Office of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion. It would not include the American Indian Resource Center or the Black Cultural Center that support specific student identities.

Some lawmakers define those additional, race-based offices as DEI efforts, with the language in Hall’s bill specifically possibly encompassing those. But universities often don’t, said Trisha Dugovic, the spokesperson for the Utah System of Higher Education.

Instead, she said, those are typically seen as student support services, often falling under different departments or leaders.

“The definitions and organizational structures surrounding these offices and roles vary widely across institutions, leading to sometimes vastly different numbers for each institution depending on the definition used,” she said.

Dugovic said the schools did not have numbers available or a way to easily capture that fuller extent of DEI. But she said the institutions will look further at those offices, and the system intends to provide updated numbers including those in the coming weeks to respond to legislation.

“This data offers a current snapshot of the Utah System of Higher Education’s DEI expenditures and staff positions,” she said. “However, it does not capture the ongoing and dynamic progress we are making as a system as we work to be responsive to the Legislature and our campus communities.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Last year, when he first introduced legislation on the topic, Johnson said roughly $11 million is spent on DEI programs at Utah colleges and universities every year — a number he said came from legislative research. This year, the legislative fiscal analyst has estimated about the same, with $10.4 million.

That would mean, in addition to the roughly $3 million spent on official DEI offices, another roughly $8 million is spent on the more specific programs for targeted populations, including Latino support offices or women’s resource centers.

Johnson previously said to The Tribune: “Are we wisely spending these funds?”

Who spends the most?

The University of Utah spends a little over $1 million annually on its DEI-specific staff, more than double any other college in the state.

Utah State University spends half, at $406,786.

Of the traditional public colleges and universities, Southern Utah University spent the least with $95,159. That’s because the administrator over its DEI efforts — the chief inclusion officer — spends half of her time on diversity programming and half of her time on general campus and community initiatives. That gives the school .5 FTE, and only half her salary is counted toward SUU’s costs.

How does that spending compare to a school’s overall budget?

The total spending for those DEI office administrators and operations is a fraction of a university or college’s total spending.

INSIGHT Into Diversity, a diversity magazine and website about higher education, wrote in a 2019 investigation that most schools spend 0.5% of their budget on diversity programming.

Let’s look at the numbers from the Utah System of Higher Education.

The University of Utah is spending $1,080,000 on DEI annually. Its operating budget (essentially, the amount it costs to run the university), according to its latest financial report, is $7.2 billion.

That means the DEI administrative costs are 0.015% of its total budget.

Even accounting for more spent at the U. — with other support offices added in — it would still be a fraction.

Take, for instance, the entire $11 million that Johnson said is spent across the state’s eight public colleges and universities on DEI. If all of that amount were spent just at the U., for instance, it would still amount to 0.15% of the total budget there.

“It’s a very small expenditure of the university’s overall budget,” said U. spokesperson Chris Nelson.

The $1 million for DEI administration at the U. is even less than 1% of what the school brings in from tuition and fees, with $450 million annually, or the amount annually appropriated by the Legislature to cover salary increases at the university, roughly $700 million.

How many staff are there?

The state’s System of Higher Education includes eight traditional public colleges and universities, along with eight technical colleges. And all 16 of those institutions are overseen by the office of the commissioner for higher education.

Combined, those entities employ about 24 full-time equivalent administrative employees dedicated solely to officially named DEI offices (again, not including smaller offices, like a Polynesian center that would feed into those).

The University of Utah, the state’s flagship institution, has the most staff in its Office of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion with 8.7 full-time equivalents.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The conservative Heritage Foundation published numbers on DEI that counted 60 staff at the U. dedicated to that programming. Those would be more encompassing of all efforts, including smaller offices, but a preliminary look at the school’s website doesn’t suggest the total would be that high.

For comparison, the university employs 40,000 employees total. So 60 would be 0.15%.

Utah Valley University is second with three FTE. It’s the largest university, based on student population, in the state. And Utah State University is third with two FTE.

Three of the technical schools — Dixie Tech, Southwest Tech and Tooele Tech — employ no diversity administrators. One school, Bridgerland Tech, reported that they have 0.01 FTE for equity and inclusion. That would mean an employee spends 1% of their time on those efforts.

The traditional public colleges and universities had the most staff dedicated to diversity, with 20.33 total FTE.

The commissioner’s office for the Utah System of Higher Education also employs one full-time assistant commissioner for equity, diversity, and inclusion, along with one part-time and temporary position called a student success and opportunity coordinator. So that means 1.5 FTE.

It appears, at least under Hall’s proposal, that some DEI staff could lose their jobs if the legislation is approved and signed by the governor.

Dugovic said: “Until legislation is passed and a full review is made, we don’t yet fully know the impact on system practices, procedures [and] positions.”

How much are the highest DEI administrators paid?

As most of that money delineated by the Utah System of Higher Education goes toward administration costs, it’s worth looking at the salaries of the highest paid personnel in those university offices.

The salaries, which are available to the public through Transparent Utah, range widely, as do the titles for the top positions.

Some of the administrators are vice presidents and take part in a university’s cabinet. Others are focused solely on running the DEI center on campus and don’t have an upper-level role.

The salary for the U.’s vice president of equity and diversity, without benefits, is the highest at $281,660. And the individual with the same title at USU makes a comparable $251,381.

At the U., there are four vice presidents (not including senior vice presidents, which is a higher title), and the one over equity earns the least out of those positions.

The vice president over research, for instance, makes $347,704, excluding benefits. The vice president over government relations makes $546,812.

Even deans at the U. make more than the diversity vice president. The dean over engineering makes $532,411. And it’s not just a caveat for science positions. The dean over humanities makes $295,000.

And the salary ranges dip, depending on the school. The director of diversity and inclusion at Snow College — the smallest public higher education institution in the state — makes $67,044 annually, without benefits.

What do DEI offices accomplish?

DEI programs in higher education are meant to support students from underrepresented backgrounds, including race and ethnicity, as well as single parents or individuals with disabilities, to help them through college.

Conservative state leaders have questioned the money being spent on the programs because they say they don’t see metrics proving the success of those efforts. But neither Cox nor lawmakers have given specifics they would like to see.

“To be honest, it is extremely difficult to quantify the return on investment,” said Stanley Ellington, chair of the Utah Black Roundtable, a coalition that aims to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the state. “But I can tell you: DEI spending is value added.”

Ellington said one measure to look at is enrollment rates for students of color in higher education. The data shows improvements in those over the years. Graduation rates should be considered, too, as the work of equity offices, he said, but the efforts take time.

Sometimes, he said, the goal is as simple as making disadvantaged students feel more comfortable and giving them a place on campus — which is hard to measure. The ACLU of Utah — which is opposed to the bills to remove DEI offices from campuses — said in a statement that the offices help address and reduce racial bias on campus.

Dugovic with the Utah System of Higher Education said, in part: “DEI programs and offices at Utah public colleges aim to create a welcoming environment, increase access and opportunity for all Utah students from a variety of experiences, values and worldviews.”

Ellington feels, as they’re currently set up, DEI offices are not being funded sufficiently to reach their goals — even before the recent legislative proposals.

“If less time was spent on dismantling what appears to have gone astray and more time spent on alignment to reasonable outcomes,” he said, “we would be doing better.”

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