Skip to main content

Disaggregate: Race and ethnicity


Self-reported race and ethnicity

Why it matters

Disaggregating data by race and ethnicity is critical for identifying and addressing disparities in outcomes related to systemic and institutional racism. As discussed throughout this report, individuals and communities of color are often disadvantaged by inequitable access to resources and services in education systems, workforce systems, and beyond. Measuring outcomes by racial and ethnic groups is required for accountability in grades K–12 under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and as part of required reporting to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for postsecondary institutions receiving Title IV funds.

What to know about measurement

Data systems across sectors do not always use the same reporting standards for race and ethnicity, which can limit the comparability and availability of data reported across sectors. For example, IPEDS requires postsecondary institutions to exclude students who are nonresident aliens according to the visa and citizenship information on record at the institution from race and ethnicity reporting; these students instead are classified as a separate category of nonresident aliens. The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) also asks institutions to follow these guidelines established by IPEDS. Further, the NSC does not require institutions to report students’ race and ethnicity, and only 62 percent of 2020–2021 enrollment records reported to the NSC included this information.

E-W systems should align their approaches to collecting and reporting race and ethnicity data. These systems may follow the minimum categories required by the U.S. Department of Education, which are based on guidelines by the Office of Management and Budget. These include collecting data on two categories for ethnicity (Latino or Hispanic or not Latino or Hispanic) and five categories for race (American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; White). Individuals may select more than one race. This information is then used to report on seven categories: Latino or Hispanic of any race, and—for individuals who are not Latino or Hispanic—American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; White; or two or more races. Note that this guidance requires collecting data separately on Latino or Hispanic ethnic identity and racial identity, which are not mutually exclusive categories, and reporting race and ethnicity data for all students, including nonresident aliens.

In addition to these minimum categories, we recommend capturing more detailed ethnicity data based on national origin, as broad race and ethnicity groupings can mask disparities. For instance, there are more than 48 Asian ethnicities, and patterns of disparities emerge when disaggregating data for South Asian groups, such as Laotians and Cambodians, separately from East Asian groups, such as Chinese and Korean. As another example, individuals with origins in North Africa and the Middle East are categorized as “White” under federal definitions, though these groups may face different experiences and challenges than do White Americans with European roots.

Source frameworks

This disaggregate appeared in 25 source frameworks reviewed for this report, including the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) Postsecondary Metrics framework, the StriveTogether Guide to Racial and Ethnic Equity Systems Indicators, and the Urban Institute’s Boosting Upward Mobility framework.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

This website was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.