Researchers examine ‘race unknown’ enrollment data in higher education

human race
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

When a college student self-identifies as “race unknown,” what does that mean in the context of higher education research? According to researchers at Penn State and Michigan State University, the “race unknown” category does not represent random “noise” in data collection but rather can be attributed to some combination of student responses and data collection practices. Additionally, they discovered high concentrations of “race unknown” enrollments in certain institutional types (the most and least selective).


Therefore, the research team suggests that researchers refrain from dropping “race unknown” from their studies and also from interpreting the results for the “race unknown” category because “it is not a conceptually meaningful ethnoracial group.”

“We’re hoping that we change the way (higher education) researchers think about racial groups,” said Karly Ford, an assistant professor of education (higher education) in the Department of Education Policy Studies in Penn State’s College of Education.

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