New Federal Race and Ethnicity Category FAQ

Why do we need to do this?

The U.S. Department of Education has adopted new race and ethnicity categories. All institutions are required to collect this information from current students and employees.

The federal race and ethnicity categories were revised in 1997, and have been implemented in phases by the different government branches. Many people first saw the new categories in the 2000 census. Higher education is required to use the new categories for reporting starting in fall 2010.

Colleges and universities are asked by many, including the federal government, accrediting associations, college guides, newspapers, and our own college/university communities, to describe the racial/ethnic backgrounds of our students and employees.

What are the differences between the old and new federal categories?

The previous federal categories allowed an individual to select one of the following race categories: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black (non-Hispanic), Hispanic, or White (non-Hispanic).

The new federal categories first ask whether an individual is Hispanic or Latino or not as a separate ethnicity question. The individual can then select one or more of the following race categories: American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (a new category), or White. For the first time, individuals have the option to choose more than one race for federal reporting.

Why are there two questions?

The two-question format is mandated by the government. The October 19, 2007 Federal Register, the official record for these requirements, cites historical concerns about undercounting Americans of Spanish origin or descent in past censuses. Research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the two-question format provides the most accurate responses.

What if I don’t respond to the survey?

You are not required by law to respond to this request. If you provided this information at the time of your employment or admission to Carleton, the College will use the information already on file.

What do I do if I’m not a US citizen or permanent resident?

If any of the categories seem appropriate, you may choose to fill out the form. Nonresident aliens are reported as a separate category to the federal government. The College has a record of your status as a nonresident alien, and must report you as such. However, if you wish to further identify yourself by a race or ethnicity, you may choose to do so.

How does this affect College reports?

For federal purposes, those selecting “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity will be reported only in that category. Other respondents will be reported either by the race selected, or as “Two or More Races”. Carleton has the option to break out more detail in internal reports where individuals have chosen more than one category, including a choice of both race and ethnicity.

Any 2010-2011 reports that contain race and ethnicity category information will not be entirely comparable to reports from 2009-2010 and earlier. This includes reports to the federal and state governments, higher education consortiums, and internal Carleton reports.

Who do I call if I have questions?

You may call or e-mail Jim Fergerson, Carleton College Director of Institutional Research and Assessment.

Phone: 507-222-4292


What are the federal category definitions?

The new federal categories were developed in 1997 by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to describe groups to which individuals belong, identify with, or belong in the eyes of the community. The categories do not denote scientific definitions of anthropological origins. The designations are used to categorize U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and other eligible non-citizens.

Federal Definitions for New Race and Ethnicity Categories

  • Hispanic or Latino  A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native  A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian  A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American  A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander  A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White  A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.