Census and the American Community Survey

The American Community Survey (ACS), which replaced the Census long form, is a national sample survey of 2 million households that became fully implemented in 2005. ACS data are used to produce estimates for one-year, three-year, and five-year periods. Each month, the ACS questionnaire is mailed to 250,000 housing units across the nation that have been sampled from the Census Bureau’s Master Address File.15 As with the long-form of the Census, response to the ACS is currently required by law. The questionnaire has items on sex, age, race, ethnicity, and household relationship. Each observation is weighted to produce estimates. Weighting is done via a ratio estimation procedure that results in the assignment of two sets of weights: a weight to each sample person record, both household and group quarters persons, and a weight to each sample housing unit record. There are three education-related variables in the ACS: college or school enrollment in the three months preceding the survey date, current grade level, and educational attainment, including field of bachelor’s degree. ACS collects data from households and group quarters. Group quarters include institutions such as prisons and nursing homes but also college dormitories.

In terms of value for productivity measurement, no information is collected on credit hours and colleges or universities attended or completed by survey respondents enrolled in college. The questionnaire has items on various sources and amounts of income, and details on occupation and work in the year preceding date of survey. ACS data thus provides descriptive statistics of educational status of various population groups (even in small geographic areas like census tracts), but it lacks relevant information to calculate institutional productivity. In the ACS, survey respondents change from year to year. No household or person is followed over time. Therefore it is difficult to understand educational pathways which other education-related data sources address. At best, ACS provides a snapshot of educational status of the U.S. population based on a sample size larger than that of other data sources.

The major attraction of the ACS, for the purposes here, is its comprehensive population coverage. Its limitations are that it is a relatively new survey, with data available from 2006; only three education-related variables are present and the data are not longitudinal.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) conducts two longitudinal surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97). These gather information on education and employment history of young individuals. The survey begun in 1979 is still ac-


15See http://www.census.gov/acs/www/ [June 2012].

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