College Applications To Include New Multi-Racial Box

College Applications To Include New Multi-Racial Box

In a nod to America’s growing multiracial population, the U.S. Department of Education has endorsed a new system that would allow students to pick more than one “race” box on college applications — and in doing so has unleashed new questions that could have serious policy ramifications.  

After nine years of work, the Education Department released draft guidelines last month intended to help colleges collect and report information on race and ethnicity, and have asked colleges to send feedback. The colleges, which have long struggled with how to classify mixed-race students, overwhelmingly welcomed the guidelines.

“I expect colleges to be pleased because the guidelines certainly are appropriate, reasonable and do limit the burden on categorizing,” says Dr. Eugene L. Anderson, associate director of national initiatives at the American Council on Education. “They make sense. They respect peoples’ individual notion of racial identity, which is important.”

The new system would allow students who identify themselves by more than one race to check more than one box. Those students will be reported as “multiracial,” and the Department of Education will not require colleges to detail their racial combination, as the U.S. Census does. 

 The group “Asian and Pacific Islander” will be separated into two categories. Hispanic and Latin students will be asked to first identify themselves as Hispanic or Latin, and then given the opportunity to check a second box specifying whether they are Black, Caucasian or other.

Education Department officials acknowledge that many more concerns will inevitably arise in this complex, and often political, issue. For example, will the system result in the apparent decline of some demographic groups? Will colleges aiming for a certain student quota be confused by the anonymous “multirace” category?

“When you say, out of 17 million college students, 5 percent are multiracial — well what are they? You don’t know where the new people are from,” Anderson says. “It gets tricky.”

It is expected that American Indian, Black and Asian numbers will appear to decline, as some of those students will check more than one box and be reported as multiracial. The number of Hispanic boxes checked is expected to increase.

In the 2000 U.S. Census, 6.8 million people, or 2.4 percent of the population, picked more than one racial or ethnic category. Education Department officials say they hope to bring in many of the students who refused to answer the question, either because they did not see their mixed identity represented or out of protest to the narrow confines of the question. Still, many experts suspect that White students avoid the question out of fear that their non-minority status will set back their admissions chances. 

The department intends to begin implementing the change beginning this school year, and is requiring all educational institutions to finish implementing it by 2009.

— By Christina Asquith



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