Op-Ed: Jacqueline Andrews, Lucy Walker, L. David Eaton

Recent New Paltz Oracle reports have highlighted differing interpretations about trends in New Paltz student diversity. The validity of any conclusion that diversity has changed rests on the assumption that racial/ethnic categories into which students self-identify were the same a decade ago as they are now.  This is not the case.  Although we hesitate to further complicate the discussion of diversity, the facts do matter and they are not always straight-forward or simple.

New Paltz, like other colleges and universities across the nation, follows Federal guidelines in asking student applicants to self-identify their ethnic/racial group. Before 2009, five categories existed: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black non-Hispanic, Hispanic/Latino, or White non-Hispanic.  Applicants could choose only one answer, or could choose not to answer (“Unknown”).

Since 2009, applicants are asked first whether or not they identify as Hispanic/Latino.  They are then asked if they are American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, or White.  More than one answer places a student into a Multi-racial category.

Students answering “yes” to the Hispanic/Latino question are reported by 2009 Federal methods as Hispanic/Latino, even if they choose “Black” in the second question. Students answering ‘no’ to the Hispanic/Latino question but selecting Black and another category in the second list are categorized as ‘Multi-racial’, a grouping that did not exist before 2009.

Here’s how this may affect our reporting of racial composition of New Paltz students; in fall 2012, 440 undergraduate students self-identified as Black; 64 of those students identified as Hispanic, and for Federal reporting are in the Hispanic/Latino category.  Of those 440, 62 who identified as non-Hispanic, Black/African American and another race other than Black/African American are reported as Multi-racial. This leaves 314 students reported as Black. Thus, the change in federal reporting results in a dramatic reduction in the number of Black students reported, compared with the pre-2009 reporting structure and compared with the number of Black students actually on the campus.  The 2009 change in Federal reporting makes direct comparison of groupings before and after that year problematic.

New Paltz takes seriously our longstanding commitment to being a diverse community and to overcoming obstacles to the academic success of all motivated students.  And we are proud of the success of our students.  One measure of that success is retention of first-time/full-time students , a statistic that colleges report to the Federal government and guidebooks like US News and World Report.  The average retention rate across the US is 74%.  For students attending New Paltz for the first time in 2011, 92 percent of Black students, 87 percent of Latino/Hispanic students, and 87 percent of White students returned to continue their studies in fall 2012.  New Paltz students are remarkably successful by national standards, and that success is apparent for students from all racial groups.

These successes notwithstanding, we all have much work to do in expanding educational opportunities for a diverse society.

Jacqueline Andrews, Lucy Walker & L. David Eaton