Study: More Students Don’t Identify Racial/Ethnic
Background on College Applications
A new report released recently by the James Irvine Foundation Campus
Diversity Initiative explores the dramatic rise in the percentage of students who choose not to identify their racial/ethnic background on college admissions forms. The study, conducted by researchers from the Association of American Colleges and Universities and Claremont Graduate University, examined information from three private California colleges, finding that a sizeable portion of the unidentified students at those schools were White. Another large group were multiracial students who selected “White” as part of their racial/ethnic identification.
“While this study is exploratory, it is a big first step in isolating and addressing the problems associated with how campuses and the federal government track the racial/ethnic background of today’s college students,” says AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “Given what we now know about the educational value of diverse learning environments, it is more important than ever that we have an accurate picture of student diversity on our college campuses. We need to attend to the growing number of students who don’t identify their racial/ethnic background on admissions forms. We cannot rely on anecdotes about these students or on assumptions that they are all multiracial, especially at schools with highly competitive admissions.”
Nationally, the percentage of students ignoring the racial/ethnic background question increased nearly 100 percent between 1991 and 2001, from 3.2 percent to 5.9 percent. The numbers are often significantly higher on individual campuses, the report found. At one of the target colleges, 42 percent of entering students listed “White” as their ethnic background on admissions information. But an examination of freshman surveys revealed that White students were between 57 percent and 70 percent of the entering class.
“We must move away from collapsing multiple groups of students into categories that are not very useful, including for federal data reporting,” says lead author Dr. Daryl G. Smith of CGU. “College and university leaders need to obtain detailed information about students’ racial/ethnic backgrounds in order to know precisely who is and who is not getting into college.”
The report suggests implementing more detailed collection standards and a more nuanced use of data in order to generate a more accurate picture of the racial and ethnic diversity on college campuses.
The entire report is available online at <www.irvine.org/>.
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