The University of Texas at Austin has begun a process of adopting new categories which affect all levels of education from preschool to university level throughout the nation for identifying and reporting the race and ethnicity of its students, faculty and staff members.
These changes are required by the federal government and reflect changes made for the 2000 U.S. Census.
Until now, the process has been for individuals to identify themselves with a single race/ethnicity category. Implementation of the new categories, which allows members of the university community to specify more than one category in identifying themselves, will be required of all colleges and universities, as well as primary and secondary schools throughout the United States by the fall semester of 2010, said Maryann Ruddock, associate vice president in the Office of Information Management and Analysis.
"How we identify ourselves, in terms of race and ethnicity, has changed since 1977 when the categories were first developed," said Dr. Gregory Vincent, the university's vice president for diversity and community engagement. "The opportunity to identify all that we are and all that we bring is exciting. I encourage those who feel their current demographic does not fully capture who they are to re-identify so that the university's profile better reflects the diversity of our institution."
This process dates back to 1977 when the federal government first defined ethnicity and race categories, Ruddock said. The categories remained the same until changes were mandated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1977, and first appeared in the 2000 Census collection. The categories used in the 2000 Census are the same ethnicity and race codes that are now being implemented at educational institutions. The final guidelines that became effective Dec. 3, 2007 are published at the Federal Register, Volume 72, Number 202, pp. 59266-59279 (PDF, download Adobe Reader).
To bring educational data in line with census data, educational institutions are required to collect ethnicity and race data using a two-question format. The first question asks if the respondent is Hispanic (yes/no). The second question asks the respondent to specify one or more of the following racial categories: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black/African American, or white. The major difference from previous ethnicity and race questions is that respondents now are permitted to specify more than one race, along with Hispanic/non-Hispanic. Respondents in the past were required to specify only one ethnicity and race category. According to the federal government, the option for specifying two or more races allows institutions to "obtain more accurate information about the increasing number of students and employees who identify with more than one race."
Ethnicity and race data must be reported by the university to the federal government using these new categories by fall 2010, although all internal processes must be in place well before then to ensure these data are reported properly. Consistent reporting of ethnicity and race data by all educational institutions would enable more appropriate comparisons of institutions by state and federal governments.
The university is following these federal mandates because failure to submit certain reports to the U.S. Department of Education could mean the university would not be eligible to receive federal student financial aid or grant money. Ethnicity and race information using the two-question format will be collected on the application for new students and on new employee biographical forms. Based on federal recommendations, current students and employees also would be given an opportunity to re-identify themselves using the new two-question format. There are no consequences if a person decides not to respond to the new ethnicity and race questions. The new categories are intended as an opportunity for those who would like more options for describing themselves. For current students and employees who decline the opportunity to re-identify themselves, the university will use the ethnicity and race information on file for students and employees.
"The opportunity for current students and employees to re-identify in terms of ethnicity and race will take place through next April," Ruddock said. "Provost Steven Leslie authorized the establishment of a number of working groups to address these implementation issues."
Ruddock said a public forum is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 in the Texas Union Lone Star Room, 3.208, to further inform the university community of these changes. An online "Questions and Answers" Web page regarding ethnicity and race codes may be seen on the Office of the Provost's Web site.