Trina Jordan, a 49-year-old single mom from Nashville, Tenn., was always aware of her race in college.

As an African-American undergraduate at Tennessee State University, a historically black school, she felt like other students were judging her for her dark skin. But that all changed when she signed up for an online master's degree in professional studies at Middle Tennessee State University. There, Jordan was comfortable with her virtual classmates – and her skin color –​ in ways she never was in an on-campus setting.

"With an online course, nobody knows who you really are," says Jordan, who works for the Tennessee Board of Regents​, ​ the state's higher education...

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