Kansas University recruiters will hit the road this week on a tour that aims to lure more minority students to Lawrence.
The university has said in recent years that KU's diversity is improving, with record numbers of minority students enrolled.
But a statistical phenomenon may be skewing those results for better or worse: Fewer students are leaving their "ethnicity" boxes unchecked, meaning apples-to-apples comparisons to previous years are difficult.
The result, KU officials admit, could mean KU is either more or less diverse than the numbers show.
"It could work either way," said Lisa Pinamonti, director of admissions and scholarships. "It's impossible to know if they don't report it."
KU administrators track ethnicity based on boxes checked on application forms. Students aren't required to complete the ethnicity section.
Based on those who do identify their race, KU's minority population has increased to 10.9 percent from 8.9 percent since Chancellor Robert Hemenway arrived in 1995. An additional 5.9 percent of students are from other countries, down from 7 percent in 1995.
In 1995, 1,826 students left the race section blank. This year, only 600 students left it blank. Administrators don't have an explanation for the trend.
"I can't speak to the reason," Pinamonti said. "Students appear to be more willing to make their ethnicity known."
Deb Teeter, who directs KU's Office of Institutional Research and Planning, also couldn't explain the difference in reporting numbers. But she said she had no reason to think minority or white students were reporting at a disproportionate rate compared with 1995.
"I have no reason to question the validity of the data," she said.
Teeter said universities across the country have seen an increase in the number of students who leave ethnicity sections blank on application forms, in part because federal reporting requires division by four ethnic groups -- American Indian, black, Hispanic and Asian. If a student is biracial, Teeter said, he or she might be more likely to leave the space blank.
Melanie Weiser, president of KU's Hispanic American Leadership Organization, said she could understand why students might be more willing to complete their application forms.
"I've grown up being taught to be proud of my heritage," she said. "When you leave high school, you're more comfortable about being at a bigger place, knowing there are people similar to you. Personally for me, my mom has told me to check the Hispanic box."
Hemenway has set minority recruitment and retention as a top priority during his tenure. The stepped-up efforts include a Multicultural Roadshow, which runs today through Wednesday. A team of about 20 people will be in Wichita, Kansas City, Kan., and Topeka to meet with community organizations and high school students to share information about KU geared toward minority students.
Claudia Mercado, associate director of admissions and scholarships, said she was confident the outreach would pay off for KU.
"We're getting the word out there," she said. "It's a big issue on campus. Everybody's coming together really well."