Campus News

Innovative Doctorate Focuses on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leadership Development

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 2, 2021) — A new, innovative doctoral specialization at the University of Kentucky College of Education will prepare scholars for diversity, equity and inclusion senior leadership roles in higher education settings and related fields. The program, pending approval by the UK Faculty Senate, will begin Fall 2021.

The Ph.D. in Studies in Higher Education Specialization in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will be housed in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation. It is a new concentration within the department’s existing studies in higher education doctoral program and is pending faculty senate approval.

The diversity, equity and inclusion concentration of the Ph.D. was created in collaboration with INSIGHT Into Diversity, a magazine and online news source covering higher education. Scholars enrolled in the diversity, equity, and inclusion concentration will have the opportunity to apply for scholarship funding from INSIGHT Into Diversity.

“Colleges and universities across the country are looking for senior leaders, such as chief diversity officers, to serve as change agents, bringing innovation, creativity and high-level strategic thinking to diversity, equity, and inclusion roles on their campuses. This Ph.D. strand will focus on the latest strategies for working within complex institutions, applying innovative approaches to ensure everyone has an opportunity to succeed,” said Kelly Bradley, professor and chair, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation.

Graduates will have the diversity, equity and inclusion specialization noted on their transcript and will earn an additional credential the Senior Diversity Officer Leadership Graduate Certificate.

“Many educational policy programs, including other programs offered within our department, have coursework focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as it is an integral part of all roles in higher education. However, this new Ph.D. strand will stand out to prospective students who know they want to pursue roles in academia specifically focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion leadership,” said Gregory Vincent, professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, and executive director of the department’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative in collaboration with the NAACP.

Vincent, a former civil rights attorney who holds both a law degree and doctor of education, will serve as director for the Senior Diversity Officer Leadership Graduate Certificate. He is a national expert on civil rights, social justice and campus culture. His leadership experience includes serving as a college president and as a professor and vice president for diversity and community engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Ph.D. coursework will emphasize innovative approaches to diversity, equity and inclusion work and will offer experiential learning opportunities where scholars’ creative and forward-thinking ideas can be applied. It will also include mentorship from experienced senior diversity officers from across the nation.

Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation faculty worked with the UK Office for Institutional Diversity and INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine to develop the diversity, equity and inclusion specialization of the Studies in Higher Education Ph.D. The magazine runs an awards program recognizing universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout campus. Those that rank in the top tier are named Diversity Champions. The magazine has recognized the University of Kentucky as a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipient and a Diversity Champion four years in a row.

“The demand for experienced diversity administrators continues to grow across higher education. This advanced degree housed in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky will serve as a groundbreaking opportunity for anyone who wants the leadership knowledge and skills needed in this field to fill these executive level positions. When considering who I wanted to partner with to create this degree program, the University of Kentucky was my top choice.  Being named an INSIGHT Into Diversity multi-year HEED Award winner and Diversity Champion, I knew the leadership support and resources were in place to make my vision a reality. I am thrilled and honored to be their collaborator in this exciting and impactful endeavor,” said Lenore Pearlstein, president of Potomac Publishing Inc. and co-publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity publication and website in higher education today.

The program was developed with working professionals in mind and can lead to careers as instructors and researchers in academia, mid- and senior-level academic administrators and even college presidents.

“This program is flexible and was designed for busy professionals and dedicated scholars. Most classes take place in the late afternoon and evening hours. Many courses are also available online synchronously and asynchronously, so it is possible to organize completion of this degree mostly online,” said Jane McEldowney Jensen, associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation. “The senior diversity officer graduate certificate built into the doctorate will further help scholars demonstrate their expertise in the field and provide a competitive edge in the job market.”

Kayla Johnson and Sarah LaCour, assistant professors in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, will be among the program’s faculty. Vincent, Johnson and LaCour were among a group of 12 diverse new faculty recruited to the UK College of Education in 2020-21 who are making an impact in areas of K-12 education and higher education where needs are among the greatest and resources are often lacking. Vincent and LaCour are among the faculty who worked to launch the department’s Education and Civil Rights Initiative in collaboration with the NAACP last year.

“We worked to recruit individuals who bring to the table a breadth of expertise and energy. Not only are they adding to the diverse representation of our college, but they are people who have dedicated their careers to developing knowledge that will uplift vulnerable populations,” said UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation. “Considering our top rankings among public colleges, it’s clear that diversity, civil rights, and excellence go hand-in-hand.”

The Studies in Higher Education Ph.D. – Specialization in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will enroll an initial class of scholars to begin studies in Fall 2021. For more information about this and other programs in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, visit

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.