Gov. Cox said he didn’t see evidence DEI programs work. Here’s the data Utah colleges say they’ve given him.

Here’s a look at data highlighted by each of the state’s eight public colleges and universities to show the impact of their diversity efforts on graduation and retention rates.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marilee Coles-Ritchie, Michelle Thorley, and Deann Coles, from left, join a silent rally at the Utah Capitol before the Senate Education Committee hears HB261, the anti-DEI bill that aims to dismantle diversity offices in Utah public education and government, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. Utah's public colleges and universities say their numbers support diversity efforts and prove they work. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, though, is soon expected to sign the bill into law.

Gov. Spencer Cox has said that he’s “not seeing any evidence” that the diversity programs at Utah’s public colleges and universities have an impact.

”The question is, what are the outcomes?” he said during a December news conference. “Are we actually making a difference?”

His words helped spur HB261 this legislative session, which he has signed into law, requiring the state’s eight public colleges to overhaul their DEI efforts.

But school administrators here say that they’ve had several discussions with Cox and lawmakers — and have provided data to show what their diversity, equity and inclusion offices have accomplished and how they’ve helped marginalized students.

“The numbers demonstrate the impact of our efforts,” a spokesperson at Utah Valley University wrote.

It’s difficult to look at the impact of DEI holistically across Utah colleges, as each school has chosen to focus on different populations — Latinos, women, first-generation students. But each institution points to numbers that show the work has moved the bar for some graduation and enrollment rates, which they say is the ultimate mission of DEI efforts (along with providing students an environment where they feel safe).

There’s concern now with the new law that the gains could be lost.

Meanwhile, the sponsor of HB261 has said she didn’t have data to show why her bill was needed, such as white students being left behind with the focus on DEI. In fact, white students in Utah’s institutions of higher education have continued to outpace their makeup of the state’s general population and their enrollment numbers have remained steady.

Here’s what each university and college highlighted from their DEI efforts — which they say they shared with state leaders before the legislative session — and some of what they’ve accomplished by focusing on marginalized students. The data was fact-checked through publicly available numbers.

Utah Valley University

UVU said it has focused its DEI efforts on a few selected groups of students more likely to drop out of college. And the school has been able to increase retention rates — meaning how many students stay enrolled in college and don’t drop out before completing a degree — for each.

The retention rate for female students grew over the last decade by 6%, for first-generation college students by 10%, for Latino students by 16%, for Pacific Islanders by 23% and for veterans by 37%.

Female students are now seeing the same retention rates as men. But compared to the roughly 70% retention rate for white students, all minority racial and ethnic groups, while getting closer, are still behind at UVU by at least 5 percentage points.

The graduation rate for veterans, after being behind for years, is, though, now equal to the graduation rate for all students at the school.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students begin fall semester at Utah Valley University on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.

UVU, the largest public university in the state, sees DEI as a broad net to include all of those populations — not just something that targets race. By focusing on those specific categories of students, the school said, it has been able to provide support that has made a measurable difference.

The university’s overall graduation rate has increased 24% over the last five years. And last year, it surpassed the 45% total rate the school set as a goal for all students.

Salt Lake Community College

In 2016, Salt Lake Community College set a DEI goal of having its student enrollment rate mirror the racial and ethnic demographics of Salt Lake County.

And it’s reached that — making particular gains with Latino students.

Seven years ago, when the effort started, about 85% of SLCC’s student body matched the demographics of the county, with white students outnumbering their makeup of the population. Now the student body is slightly more diverse than the population of the county.

And the community college has the largest Latino student population of any school in the state, with 21.2%. The Latino demographic in Salt Lake County is close to that at 19.7%, according to census numbers.

It’s an enrollment milestone not yet reached by any other college or university in the state. (The next closest school is Utah Tech at 13.1% Latino students.)

The schools efforts to close the gap have included providing childcare assistance to parents who are enrolled in classes. The school also offers mental health services for veterans. And it was the first in the state to eliminate its admissions fee to encourage more individuals from low-income households to apply.

University of Utah

The state’s flagship institution compiles an annual report that highlights its DEI work across six different offices and centers for students, as well as an annual scorecard where it analyzes its success.

The most recent report, for the academic year ending in spring 2022, includes the American Indian Resource Center hosting a powwow with more than 600 visitors. (The U. also has a specific and longstanding agreement with the Ute Indian Tribe to support Ute students attending the university in exchange for the school using the name and imagery of the tribe.)

The Dream Center for students in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program gave out $169,000 in grants. The Black Cultural Center partnered with the Honors College to offer a class on health disparities in Black mothers. And the Office for Inclusive Excellence held 41 workshops on bias and microaggressions across campus.

And the school has a Racist & Bias Incident Response Team that’s responsible for tracking, responding to and resolving incidents of discrimination on campus. It handled 24 in 2023 and 26 in 2022. The idea is to help reduce the number and educate students and faculty about appropriate behavior.

Those are just some of the actions the school has taken and how it measures its success in supporting students across racial and ethnic backgrounds. The annual scorecard marked improvement, including its DEI offices seeing a 23% increase in the number of events held. One student group, though, recently protested the U.’s DEI efforts after its sponsorship was pulled.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A fresh blanket of snow covers the University of Utah campus and surrounding hills in the Salt Lake Valley on Monday, March 27, 2023.

The U. defines its diversity mission as “building bridges between communities, creating opportunities for connection rooted in our shared humanity and fostering a healthy and inclusive campus environment where everyone knows that they belong and has an opportunity to thrive.”

The university also offers the only medical school program in the state. And it tracks metrics there for DEI success, both in enrollment of students and also in health outcomes.

For example, the family medicine residency there is now made up of 40% students from diverse backgrounds, when it had zero in 2017. The school has a four-year program that’s specifically aiming to increase diversity in health professions that is credited for that improvement.

And the hospital increased breast cancer screenings for Black residents to where they are now nearly on par with white individuals.

Utah Tech University

Utah Tech University said it views DEI broadly, and its most recent efforts have been to support students from rural communities.

Currently, the student population for the St. George-based school is 60% from rural areas. That has increased by at least 10 percentage points in recent years, based on the data.

“These efforts have yielded a diverse student body, when all aspects of diversity are considered,” the school said.

Utah Tech has also tried to enroll and graduate more students of color — and has succeeded. The school had particularly hoped changing its name from a previous one associated with slavery and the Civil War Confederacy would help with that.

The name was changed in summer 2022. By the next academic year, the school saw an increase from 629 students of color graduating to 846. That’s a 35% change in one year.

Utah State University

Utah State University in northern Utah has been focused on increasing the number of students who are the first in their families to attend school.

With that aim, it launched the Aggies First Scholars program. (It has a second and newer program for low-income students called the Utah State Promise Scholarship; the data on that isn’t clear yet.)

Within the first year of the first-generation program, enrollment of those students increased by 16% for the fall 2022 class. That gain comes, too, even as the school’s enrollment overall has dipped slightly in recent years.

USU said it’s also focused on supporting students of color, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities and international students — with a 2019 campus climate survey finding those groups reported a lower sense of belonging in higher education than their peers.

The school created a division over DEI to support those populations in July 2022.

Weber State University

Weber State University has worked to improve its retention and graduation rates by supporting first-generation students in particular.

And they pointed to numbers that show it’s worked to move the needle overall.

In the last decade, the retention rate for the Ogden college has improved by 11.5 percentage points “through these focused efforts,” the school said. The completion rate for students getting a bachelor’s degree, also jumped by 10 percentage points.

And the school said it’s closed the gap for retaining its Latino students — which make up 12% of the population there — and are more likely than white students to be the first in their family to graduate.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber State University's graduation ceremony at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Friday, April 28, 2017.

Weber State said studying what makes students different — and what might put hurdles in their paths — has proven key.

“Analyzing disparities helps us to close completion gaps for students who historically access college at different rates than their peers,” the school wrote.

That said, Weber State also noted that it measures the success of its DEI efforts both quantitatively and qualitatively. Giving students a safe place, for instance, is hard to measure but also impactful.

Southern Utah University

Southern Utah University is similarly focused on measuring the success of DEI initiatives by graduation and retention rates — with most of its efforts targeting lower-income students.

The school has not raised tuition for five years, a move started by then-President Scott Wyatt and continued by current President Mindy Benson, to help keep college affordable.

And it launched a one-of-its-kind online bachelor’s degree in general studies designed for students who got some class credits and then dropped out of school; they can get a diploma virtually for $75 per credit — or about $9,000 total.

Since 2014, the school said those efforts and others have helped bump the retention rate to 73% (a 15% increase in that decade) and the graduation rate to 59% (a 22% increase).

That graduation rate is now one of the highest in the state.

Snow College

Snow College, the smallest of the public higher education institutions in the state, didn’t provide specific numbers to The Tribune, but the school said it has tried to create a welcoming environment to students through DEI.

Some of those efforts can be hard to measure, but the school has created and hosted events specifically to make students feel welcome on campus, and it’s strived to increase the diversity of representation in its marketing materials. The school also has several diversity advisory groups to make recommendations.

In 2022, the school also hosted a conference titled “Black Minds Matter” that brought together higher education leaders from across the state to discuss how to better support Black students.

“We are determined to foster an environment of openness and respect for the many individual strengths that enrich the Snow College experience,” the school wrote.

The college said it tracks the success of its efforts with an annual report to the Student Affairs Division. But most of its DEI materials have been pulled off of its website.