One ethnoracial reporting category perplexes higher education researchers: “race and ethnicity unknown.” Using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we constructed a 28-year panel of 4,401 institutions. We find that the for-profit sector ranges from 5% to 18% “race unknown” students. In addition, almost 10% of students attending the most selective institutions were reported as “race unknown” in 2009 before dropping off precipitously. The size of the “race unknown” category can be attributed to some combination of student responses and data collection practices. We suggest researchers refrain from dropping “race unknown” from their studies as doing so may bias findings for the other ethnoracial categories, especially when comparing rates of student enrollment across institutional types.
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