In the continued quest for “diversity”, one university is amending its application in a significant way.

Inside Higher Ed writer Scott Jaschik discussed the change in the University of Iowa form, and its potential impact on how questions about a student’s sexual orientation may be handled by other institutions in the future.

The University of Iowa is today announcing the addition of an optional question on sexual orientation, and a transgender choice under gender, as part of an effort to make its undergraduate application one that sends a welcoming signal to all students — and to gather information about the institution’s success at attracting and retaining students who aren’t straight.

To date, only Elmhurst College has such questions (although some colleges include gay/straight alliances among the list of student groups in which a prospective applicant may express interest). But Iowa will be the first public institution to add the question to its application about student identity, not interest. While colleges routinely ask about applicants’ racial and ethnic background, among other topics, they have until now shied away from asking about sexual orientation, even as some gay rights advocates have pushed them to do so.

Advocates see Iowa’s move as significant, given that it is a flagship university. “This is a huge deal in that it shows any campus that it can do the same thing,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, which promotes the interests of gay and lesbian students in the college admissions process and once enrolled.

Two changes have been made to the Iowa application. Under the gender question, a dropdown menu now includes transgender along with male and female. And in a series of optional questions about parents’ educational background, interest in fraternities and sororities, interest in Reserve Officers Training Corps and other matters, Iowa now asks: “Do you identify with the LGBTQ community?”

Windmeyer and others have been pushing colleges to adopt such questions, arguing that just as colleges reach out to minority students with information they may find useful, and just as colleges track trends in applications and enrollment rates of minority groups, gay applicants deserve such consideration. To date, however, Elmhurst has been alone in accepting the argument. Last year, the Common Application rejected a proposal that it add questions similar to those Iowa has now added.

Perhaps universities should get truly innovative and strive for political diversity next!