The Census Bureau has been able to be somewhat more flexible in including new or revised questions on the ACS than they were on the census long form. However, due to the relative newness and the ACS’s large size, decisions on adding or changing questions are not taken lightly. The Census Bureau has an extensive program of testing and refinement of potential questions and question wording in a content test program that has been a staple of the ACS since its inception. For example, the results of the content tests in 2007 will determine the content for the 2009 ACS. Before NSF can benefit from the potential sampling efficiency and lower costs of various future designs for the NSCG, the field-of-degree question must be subjected to development and testing.
The committee has observed the process of development and testing of a field-of-degree question and assumes, based on current evidence, that there will be a question added to the ACS which collects field-of-degree information. Based on that assumption, this chapter summarizes the central issues in the decision as to whether the field-of-degree question should come with specified categories or be open-ended and discusses the need to systematically test the actual responses to this question when it is implemented in order to understand the validity of the data. The addition of the field-of-degree question is a rare and major opportunity that should be approached with careful planning.
The ACS now collects data on the highest degree or level of school completed using the question shown in Box 5-1. The inquiry appears as Question 11 on the ACS “persons” questionnaire. The response categories range from “no schooling completed” to professional and doctoral degrees.
The use of the highest degree or level of schooling question as a screening question was the first and easiest decision. To avoid unnecessary respondent burden and ensure data quality, the field-of-degree question would be asked only of the group of most interest, which would be most likely to provide usable information. Thus, the proposal is that only those who answer “bachelor’s degree” or higher (master’s, professional, or doctoral) would be asked about field of degree.
A more complex decision concerns the design of the field-of-degree question itself. A basic tradeoff in gathering information on field of degree is that the more detailed the information, the better that samples can be allocated to domains of interest, but the higher the cost in terms of time, the greater the potential loss of data quality. Mindful of these tradeoffs, NSF and the Census Bureau have developed and are testing two