sample for the NSCG was the best available strategy (National Research Council, 1989, 2003).
Most recently, in preparation for the NSCG surveys in the 2000s, NSF explored alternative sampling frames for SESTAT. It looked for a frame that could provide a more complete representation of the universe of scientists and engineers than the long-form sample approach (Fecso et al., 2007b). No suitable alternative to the long-form frame for the NSCG was identified, primarily because no other source had sufficient sample size to include a large enough number of scientist and engineers, a relatively rare population, to meet the needs of the NSCG and SESTAT.
The ACS was long ago identified as a future potential alternative to the census long form. Now that the ACS has been successfully implemented, the Census Bureau has agreed to permit use of the ACS as a sample frame for the NSCG in the future. This introduces a host of opportunities as well as some major challenges.
Some aspects of the sample design based on the decennial census would not need to change much in a transition to an ACS-based design. For example, it would be possible for NSF to draw the sample from a list of ACS respondents using criteria similar to those used in past NSCG surveys. That approach will be facilitated by the fact that the ACS now collects information that is essentially identical to that collected on the long form—the highest degree or level of school that the respondent has completed, occupational and employment characteristics, and demographic characteristics.
However, some things will need to change. The ACS surveys a smaller number of households in a given year than were surveyed by the long form. Consequently, it will be necessary to accumulate 2-3 years of ACS households in order to identify a set of households that could serve as a sufficient sample frame for the NSCG. This change introduces complications that are more fully explored in Chapter 6.
The potential for more substantial change during the shift to the ACS is embedded in the plan to add a question on the field of a bachelor’s degree to the ACS on an ongoing basis, assuming successful completion of a full-scale field test of two alternative question versions. With this question, it will be possible not only to enhance the ability of the Census Bureau to identify respondents with the characteristics of interest for sampling for the NSCG, but also to provide a base of information, both in cross-section and in time series, on the population of college graduates by field of bachelor’s degree. The data should have benefits to many federal agencies, particularly those with responsibility for assessing such issues as educational attainment, immigration, and public welfare, and for projecting occupational supply and demand. A further discussion of this new potential is presented in Chapter 7.