Diffusion in Education: An Examination of Enrollment Diversity in Postsecondary Institutions

Christine Widener, Clemson University


The thesis examines the diffusion of diversity through proportional increases in diverse enrollment among postsecondary institutions. Specifically, it tests whether the diffusion pattern of diversity will follow the model predicted by classic neoinstitutionalists, diffusing from high to low status actors, or in the case of controversial innovations follow the path predicted by Gerbasi's (2002) Status Contingent Diffusion Theory, diffusing from low to high status actors. This study argues that diversity is a controversial innovation and will thus follow the diffusion path posited by Gerbasi (2002). This research predicts that lower status postsecondary institutions will 'adopt,' or proportionally increase, diversity before and to a greater extent than middle and high status institutions. This argument is tested by using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) and U.S. News and World Report. The pattern of diffusion predicted by the Status Contingent Diffusion Theory is supported with the results of the analysis.