The California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education had its origin in a series of meetings in 1990 among graduate deans and their staff from the University of California and California State University systems. The meetings focused on ways to enhance the recruitment of minority students into doctoral programs. The UC representatives especially wanted to attract more African American and Latino students. The CSU representatives wanted a broader pool of new Ph.D. recipients that would enable their campuses to recruit future faculty as diverse as the student populations they already served.
The representatives who began these discussions called themselves the California Consortium for Minority Graduate Education and experimented with a number of different initiatives, including exchanges of information about minority applicants. The one effort that proved immediately successful and has been sustained ever since was the California Minority Graduate Education Forum, first held at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1991. The Forum was developed to inform students from groups that were significantly underrepresented in American graduate education about the career opportunities and academic challenges associated with advanced study in a wide range of disciplines. It was designed to tap into the growing pool of highly qualified undergraduate and master's-level students already attending California colleges and universities. Previously, there had not been an adequate mechanism to identify these students and encourage them to think in terms of graduate study leading to the Ph.D. degree. To remedy this situation, the Forum brought together some of the most promising underrepresented students from Southern California to acquaint them with all aspects of advanced study in the natural sciences and engineering, humanities and letters, social sciences, education, and health-related fields. Professional degree programs (medicine, dentistry, optometry, chiropractic, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, law, and MBA programs) were not included, both because they were not engaged primarily in training future faculty and because they had their own recruiting networks.
Four hundred students attended the first Forum, which received critical financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from several leading technology-oriented corporations. Since then the Forum has undergone several important changes, but its purpose and direction have not been altered. The scope of the effort has expanded to the point where a typical Forum serves 800 to 1,200 students. Independent colleges and universities have joined the Consortium and, indeed, have now hosted one-third of the Forums that have been held.
In the aftermath of voter approval for California's controversial Proposition 209, which prohibits the consideration of ethnicity or gender in admissions to the State's public universities, the name of the event was changed to the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education. Because it receives funding through the National Science Foundation, however, the Forums themselves are exempt from the provisions of Proposition 209 and their purpose remains unchanged.
In 2002, in response to student demand, the Consortium committed itself to presenting two complete Forums each year, instead of holding a single annual event alternating between Northern and Southern California. After surveying the graduate school recruiters who were present at the 2001 Forum at the University of California, San Diego, the Planning Committee decided that the Northern California Forum should be held each fall and the Southern California Forum each spring. With the pledge of additional funds by the University of California and California State University systems and the assistance of additional sponsors, the Consortium is confident that the California Forum for Diversity in Graduate Education will only continue to improve each year.