Kelly Rosinger (PhD 2015) is part of a research team exploring the significance of the "race unknown" reporting category. "What do we know about 'race unknown' appears as a brief in Educational Researcher's June/July 2020 issue.
Drawing specifically on studies using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Kelly Ford, Qiong Zhu and Rosinger, found that researchers often remove these responses from their investigations.
Over the 28-year range included in the their research, they found that the overall number tends to be less than 2% of responses. However, the rate varies by institution type and by year. In nearly 10% of surveys submitted to "the most selective institutions" in 2009, students chose the "unknown" category.
They maintain that excluding this data may skew findings in unanticipated ways and researchers should have a nuanced appreciation of what the category may indicate. Often it is inflated due to poor data quality and reporting errors. Students also might decide not to disclose their race or ethnicity for a variety of reasons.
Rosinger is assistant professor of Education and research associate at Penn State University's Center for the Study of Higher Education.