Adoption of New Ethnicity/Race Categorization
Format Begins at The University of Texas at Austin

AUSTIN, Texas--The University of Texas at Austin has begun a process of adopting new categories for identifying and reporting the ethnicity and race of its students, faculty and staff members. These changes are mandated by the federal government and reflect changes made for the 2000 U.S. Census.

Implementation of the new categories, which allows members of the university community to specify more than one race/ethnicity 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 race/ethnicity categories, Ruddock said. The categories remained the same until changes were mandated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1997, and first appeared in the 2000 Census collection. The categories used in the 2000 Census are the ethnicity/race codes that are now being implemented at educational institutions. The final guidelines that became effective Dec. 3, 2007 were published online at <http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/pdf/E7-20613.pdf>.

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 are now permitted to specify more than one race, along with Hispanic/non-Hispanic. Respondents in the past were required to specify only one race/ethnicity 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.”

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. These federal and state data are the basis for a number of policy and fiscal decisions. 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/race information using the new two-question format will be collected on the application for new students and on 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/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 would use whatever prior information it has on the students’ or employees’ ethnicity/race for reporting data.

“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 has authorized the establishment of a number of working groups to address these implementation issues.”

Ruddock said a series of forums would be scheduled to further inform the university community of these changes. An online “Questions and Answers” Web page regarding ethnicity/race codes may be seen on the Office of the Provost Web site at http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/racecode/.


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