February 1, 2023
Dr. Miguel A. Cardona
Secretary of Education
Mr. James Kvaal
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary Cardona and Under Secretary Kvaal,
In order to address long-standing racial and ethnic gaps in bachelor’s degree attainment that could be exacerbated by a Supreme Court decision that may bar institutions of higher education (IHEs) from considering race in their admissions processes, the Department of Education (ED) should expand its collection of admissions data and disaggregate that data by race and ethnicity, as it already does for gender.
While racial and ethnic gaps in the attainment of a high school diploma have shrunk significantly since 1981, they persist in bachelor’s degree attainment. The high school diploma gap between Black and White adults has significantly narrowed, but Black adults remain 10 percentage points less likely to have a BA than White adults are. Between White and Hispanic Americans, the bachelor’s degree gap has actually gotten worse: 38% of White adults have a BA, but just 21% of Hispanic adults do. If these gaps are to shrink, policymakers, researchers, institutional leaders, equity advocates, families, and communities will need a better understanding of their causes.
Currently, ED does not collect data disaggregated by race and ethnicity for college applicants or admitted students, which creates a blind spot in understanding the sources of enrollment and degree gaps. Nor does ED collect data on legacy preferences or early decision and early action plans, three admissions practices shown to have detrimental effects on diversity and access at selective colleges. The addition of a question to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) on whether a college considers legacy status in fall 2022 will be useful, but that data point will be much more powerful if it is paired with information on how many students benefit from legacy status.
While increasing transparency in college admissions of colleges and universities has always been important, it has become even more necessary in light of the ongoing attacks on policies aimed at advancing racial equity and diversity and the upcoming Supreme Court decision that may ban or narrow the consideration of race in admissions. Several studies of public universities in states that banned race-conscious admissions policies have found immediate and persistent declines in enrollment of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students. After the elimination of race-conscious admissions in California and Texas, admission rates of Black and Hispanic students fell by 30 to 50 percent at the states’ most selective universities and underrepresented minority representation in their entering freshman classes declined. In California, Proposition 209 deterred thousands of qualified students from applying to any UC campus and led others to enroll in institutions of higher education with lower completion rates and smaller financial returns. These changes in enrollment led to long-term, negative effects on the income of Black and Hispanic residents in their twenties and thirties.
These studies all relied on disaggregated institutional level data for applicants, admits, and enrollments; currently, it would be impossible to replicate such research on a national level, since those data are not available. If policymakers, researchers, advocates, IHEs, and students are going to understand the impact of existing admissions practices on access as well as the impact of the elimination of race-conscious admissions practices, should the Court decide that way, they will need richer information about the entire admissions process at public and private IHEs, including data on admissions practices that harm diversity and access.
Supreme Court decision aside, expanding IPEDS data will enhance ED’s ability to fulfill the Education Sciences Reform Act’s directive to “collect, report, analyze, and disseminate statistical data related to the condition and progress of postsecondary education, including access to and opportunity for postsecondary education.” ED should use the authority granted to the National Center for Education Statistics to expand IPEDS to include three new Admissions components:
- Racial and ethnic demographic data for applications and admits, not just enrollments, in order to track disparities in access throughout the admissions pipeline and not just at its endpoint.
- Whether an IHE considers an alumni relation in its admissions process and, if it does, the number of applications, admits, and enrollments that fall under this category, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and, when possible, socioeconomic status, in order to measure the impact that providing a legacy preference has on access and diversity.
- Whether an IHE offers an early decision and/or early action plan as part of its admissions process and, if it does, the number of applications, admits, and enrollments that fall under this category, disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and, when possible, socioeconomic status, in order to measure the impact that offering early decision has on access and diversity.
The administrative burden imposed on IHEs by new IPEDS questions will be limited. Since most IHEs have open admissions policies and are therefore not required to report admissions data, almost three-quarters of them would be exempted from disaggregating data for applicants and admits; 87 percent would be exempt from reporting legacy data; and 97 percent would be exempt from reporting on early decision. Most of the institutions who would be required to report and disaggregate this new data are already collecting it through the Common App or their institution’s application and using it for internal purposes. The new requirements would merely make that data public and thus increase the transparency of and accountability for admissions practices that may harm diversity and access at some IHEs. Under-resourced institutions should be given time and support to ensure they have the ability to comply with existing and additional data-reporting requirements.
Increasing transparency is more than just a path toward greater accountability for institutions of higher education; it is a powerful signal the Biden administration can send to indicate its commitment to diversity and access in postsecondary education.
We value the Department of Education’s commitment to equity and opportunity in postsecondary education. We welcome the opportunity to work with ED to implement these changes to IPEDS and propose that the next step in this process would be to set up a meeting to discuss further. The lead contact on this letter is James Murphy, Deputy Director of Higher Education Policy at Education Reform Now. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools
David Bergeron, College Unbound
DC Special Education Cooperative
Education Deans for Justice & Equity
Education Reform Now
Kelly Slay, Assistant professor of Higher Education and Public Policy, Vanderbilt University
Julie J. Park, Associate Professor, Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education, University of Maryland, College Park
Michael Bastedo, Professor, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, University of Michigan
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF)
NALEO Educational Fund
National Charter Collaborative
National College Attainment Network
National Partnership for Educational Access
National Urban League
New America, Higher Education Program
OiYan Poon, University of Maryland, College Park
Robert Shireman, Director of Higher Education Excellence and Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation
Sen. Andrew Gounardes (NY)
Soribel Genao, Assistant Professor, Department of Educational & Community Programs, CUNY
Sosanya Jones, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, Howard University
The Education Trust
The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice
The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)
The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)
W. Carson Byrd, Associate Research Scientist, Center for the Study of Higher &
Postsecondary Education, University of Michigan
 U.S. Census Bureau, Table A-2: 1947, and 1952 to 2002 March Current Population Survey, 2003 to 2021 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (noninstitutionalized population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks);1950 Census of Population and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).
 Peter Hinrichs, “The Effects of Affirmative Action Bans on College Enrollment, Educational Attainment, and the Demographic Composition of Universities,” The Review of Economics and Statistics (2012). See also, Mark C. Long and Marta Tienda, “Winners and Losers: Changes in Texas University Admissions ost-Hopwood,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (2008), and Mark C. Long and Nicole A. Bateman, “Long-Run Changes in Underrepresentation After Affirmative Action Bans in Public Universities,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (2020).
 David Card and Alan B. Krueger, “Would the Elimination of Affirmative Action Affect Highly Qualified Minority Applicants? Evidence from California and Texas,” Industrial & Labor Relations Review (2005).
 Zachary Bleemer, “Affirmative Action, Mismatch, and Economic Mobility after California’s Proposition 209,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics (February 2022).
 While we are not currently asking the Department of Education to expand the racial and ethnic categories currently collected, we note that in the future ED should disaggregate race and ethnicity data in IPEDs by the American Community Survey categories, which further disaggregate Asian American and Pacific Islander groups. While ED may need to give IHEs more time to collect data around such disaggregated categories, we urge ED to begin the process of working with IHEs now to ensure challenges faced by AAPI subgroups, and their root causes, can be better evaluated and addressed.