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Ethnic Diversity at ECC – How Do We Know Who We Are?


by Beth Katz

“Student equity” is a hot topic at ECC and throughout California’s community colleges. As we work to identify populations of students who are disproportionately impacted and in need of additional support, we first must understand the characteristics of the students we serve.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) requires ECC to report data on student race and ethnicity, using categories defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the Census, “Hispanic/Latino” is an “ethnicity,” and not a “race.” A person of any race (White, Black, American Indian, etc.) can also identify as Latino. ECC collects data on student identification with 21 different ethnic subgroups when students complete their initial applications. Using that data, the CCCCO then classifies students into eight mutually exclusive “ethnic” groups, which are commonly used in equity research:

  1. African American
  2. American Indian/Alaska Native
  3. Asian
  4. Latino
  5. Pacific Islander
  6. Two or More
  7. White
  8. Undecided/Unknown

However, we know that some of these groups can be further broken down into more than one racial or ethnic subgroup. Any student who identifies as Hispanic/Latino or with a Hispanic/Latino sub-group (Mexican, Central American, South American, or Hispanic-Other) is automatically labeled as “Latino,” regardless of whether or not they identified with other non-Latino subgroups. In other words, the Latino category trumps all others. This means that the Latino category includes students who identify with two or more ethnic subgroups, and the “Two or More” category does not include any students who identify with Latino subgroups. For example, a student who self-identifies as African American and Mexican is categorized as “Latino.” On the other hand, a student who self-identifies as African American and White is categorized as “Two or More.” (Is your head spinning yet?)

The image below diagrams how the information students submit on their ECC applications gets translated into the eight CCCCO ethnic groups.


What does this mean for equity research? We found that the eight ethnic categories generally used to group students may be concealing some greater diversity. Having a broader perspective on ethnic diversity may be particularly relevant to various student outreach efforts. Because a student’s affiliation with an Hispanic/Latino group obscures associations they may have with other ethnic groups, we may be overlooking students who could be targeted for group-specific programs. For example, a program targeting African American students in Fall 2014 may have overlooked the 825 students who identified as African American and at least one other ethnic subgroup. By ignoring the subgroup classification, we would have underestimated the number of African American students. There is also significant diversity within the Asian and Pacific Islander categories. Therefore, efforts to reach out to different students may be more successful if particular Asian subgroups are targeted, rather than all students who assume the broader label of “Asian.”

Student equity outreach efforts will always rely on students to self-identify and express interest in participating in particular programs; however, this subgroup analysis helps us size up the entire population of students being targeted and could potentially be used to improve the services we provide to various student groups.

 Follow this link to read our full report on ECC Student Ethnic Groups.


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