IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa has become the nation’s first public university to include optional questions about sexual orientation and gender identity on its application, a move hailed Wednesday by advocates hoping to improve the college experience for gays and lesbians.
University officials say the move sends a strong signal that they value the diversity that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students bring to campus. They say that knowing some students’ sexual orientation will allow them to track their enrollment and graduation rates and promote housing, student groups, and programs that might improve their social and academic success.
‘‘This is a question whose time had come,’’ university admissions director Michael Barron said.
Iowa’s decision was praised by Campus Pride, an advocacy group that has been lobbying colleges to ask the questions so schools can track the progress of LGBT students. Elmhurst College, a private liberal-arts school in suburban Chicago, became the first — and is still the only other — college to do so last year.
Iowa’s new application went into use Dec. 1. The item is listed with other optional questions about topics such as applicants’ interest in military programs and fraternities and sororities. A second change added ‘‘transgender’’ as an option for an applicant’s gender.
The admissions office will immediately e-mail students who identify as LGBT with links to information on housing options and campus resources that may interest them, Barron said.