How Categories are Chosen for Reporting Demographic Data

Have you ever had to choose your race category on a survey or studied data about our students and wondered how UNC Asheville decides which race categories to include?

Like most campuses, UNC Asheville has historically followed the conventions set forth by the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS). IPEDS, part of the Department of Education, requires submission of data in a number of areas, and mandates that it be in a specific format. However, as UNC Asheville works towards more inclusive practices, IREP is exploring ways to report race information in ways that better reflect how members of our campus community see themselves.

Take for example our Native American student population. According to IPEDS conventions, we have eight Native American students. However, based on student self-identification, we have a grand total of 64 students who identify as Native American. What’s going on?

This discrepancy is the result of how IPEDS classifies students by race and ethnicity. In Spring 2021, 64 students self-identified their racial identity as “American Indian or Alaska Native;” these students may or may not have formal tribal membership. However, of these 64 students, eight also indicated Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, and so are classified as “Hispanic” in official reporting. 48 also indicated an additional racial identity, and so are classified as “two or more races.” In addition, if we had students who identify as Native American but who are residents of other countries, they would be classified as “Nonresident.” The eight Native American students in our official reporting identify only as Native American and have no other racial/ethnic identity.

So, how many Native American students do we have? It depends on whether we use official IPEDS categories, which restrict the count to those who are only Native American with no other racial/ethnic identities, or instead consider the entire range of racial/ethnic identities that students may have.
IREP often is required to use IPEDS categories for our reporting, but for other purposes, we sometimes use the full race data. We are engaged in conversations about when to use IPEDS categories and when to use full race data, as well as how we can develop the ability to gather data about ethnic identities other than Hispanic/Latino. If you have thoughts or questions about these reporting processes reach out to Jeff Konz at