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Note 1: Commonly Used Measures (2012)

Certain common measures such as race/ethnicity, poverty, and region are used in the various surveys cited in The Condition of Education 2012. The definitions for these variables can vary across surveys and sometimes between different time periods of a single survey. This note describes how several common measures used in various indicators in this volume are defined in each of the surveys.


The categories denoting race and ethnicity in The Condition of Education are in accordance with the 1997 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) standard classification scheme. The 1997 standards emphasize self-reporting or self-identification as the preferred method for collecting data on race and ethnicity. However, while the federal categories provide a standardized format for purposes of collecting and presenting data on race and ethnicity, the standard was not designed to capture the full complexity of race and ethnicity in the United States. Under the OMB standards, "Hispanic or Latino" is an ethnicity category, not a race category. Agencies that collect data on race and ethnicity separately must collect data on Hispanic ethnicity regardless of race. Thus if respondents are classified as Hispanic, they are not categorized into racial groups.

Ethnicity is categorized as follows:

  • Hispanic or Latino: A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

Race categories presented in The Condition of Education 2012 exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity.

Racial groupings are as follows:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent; this includes, for example, people from Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, or the Middle East.
  • Two or more races: A person who reported any combination of two or more races and not Hispanic/ Latino ethnicity.

In The Condition of Education, the following terms are typically used to represent the above categories: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/ Alaska Native, and Two or more races. Not all categories are shown in all indicators. In some cases, categories are omitted because there are insufficient data in some of the smaller categories or because the data collection design did not distinguish between groups. For example, in the Common Core of Data (CCD) prior to 2010–11, the categories Asian and Pacific Islander are combined and "Two or more races" is used by some, not all, reporting districts. In other cases, omissions occur because only comparable data categories are shown. For example, the category "Two or more races," which was introduced in the 2000 Census and became a regular category for data collection in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in 2003, is sometimes excluded from indicators that present a historical series of data with constant categories, and it is sometimes included within the category "Other." For further details on these classifications, see the source documentation of the particular survey and


Federal departments and agencies use various classification systems to define community types. Indicators in The Condition of Education use the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) system of locale codes.

NCES revised its definitions of school locale types in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new locale classification system. The revision capitalizes on improved geocoding technology and the 2000 OMB definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than on proximity of an address to an urbanized area.

Referred to as the "urban-centric" classification system to distinguish it from the previous "metro-centric" classification system, the new classification system has four major locale categories—city, suburban, town, and rural—each of which is subdivided into three subcategories (see exhibit B-1).

Exhibit B-1. National Center for Education Statistics urban-centric locale categories

The resulting 12 categories are based on a few key concepts that the Census Bureau uses to define an area's urbanicity: principal city, urbanized area, and urban cluster. A principal city is a city that contains the primary population and economic center of a metropolitan statistical area, which, in turn, is defined as one or more contiguous counties that have a "core" area with a large population nucleus and adjacent communities that are highly integrated economically or socially with the core. Urbanized areas and urban clusters are densely settled "cores" of Census-defined blocks with adjacent densely settled surrounding areas. Core areas with populations of 50,000 or more are designated as urbanized areas; core areas with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 are designated as urban clusters. Rural areas are designated by the Census Bureau as those areas that do not lie inside an urbanized area or urban cluster. For more information about urban areas, see For more information about core based statistical areas, see


Data on household income and the number of people living in the household are combined with estimates of the poverty threshold, published by the Census Bureau, to determine the poverty status of children (or adults). The thresholds used to determine poverty status for an individual differ for each survey year. The weighted average poverty thresholds for various household sizes for 1990, 1995, and 2000 through 2010 are shown in exhibit B-2. (For thresholds for other years, see

Eligibility or approval for the National School Lunch Program also serves as a proxy measure of poverty status. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operated in public and private nonprofit schools and residential child care centers. Unlike the poverty thresholds discussed above, which rely on dollar amounts determined by the Census Bureau, eligibility for the National School Lunch Program relies on the federal income poverty guidelines of the Department of Health and Human Services.

In The Condition of Education, a high-poverty school is defined as a school in which 76 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. A low-poverty school is a school in which 25 percent or fewer of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. To be eligible for free lunch, a student must be from a household with an income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline; to be eligible for reduced price lunch, a student must be from a household with an income between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

Exhibit B-2. Weighted average poverty thresholds, by household size: Selected years, 1990–2010

Geographic Region

The regional classification systems in exhibit B-3 represent the four geographical regions of the United States as defined by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Exhibit B-3. U.S. Census Bureau, Regional Classification

Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate

The averaged freshman graduation rate (AFGR) is a measure of the percentage of the incoming freshman class that graduates 4 years later. The AFGR is the number of graduates with a regular diploma divided by the estimated count of incoming freshmen 4 years earlier, as reported through the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD), the survey system based on state education departments' annual administrative records. (For more information on the CCD, see Appendix B – Guide to Sources.) The estimated count of incoming freshmen is the sum of the number of 8th-graders 5 years earlier, the number of 9th-graders 4 years earlier (when current-year seniors were freshmen), and the number of 10th-graders 3 years earlier, divided by 3. The intent of this averaging is to account for the high rate of grade retention in the freshman year, which adds 9th-grade repeaters from the previous year to the number of students in the incoming freshman class each year. Ungraded students are allocated to individual grades proportional to each state's enrollment in those grades. The AFGR treats students who transfer out of a school or district in the same way as it treats students from that school or district who drop out.

Status Dropout Rate

Status dropout rates measure the percentage of individuals within a given age range who are not enrolled in school and lack a high school credential, irrespective of when they dropped out. As such, these rates can be used to gauge the need for further education and training within that population. Status dropout rates are distinct from event dropout rates, which measure the proportion of students who drop out of high school in a given year; event dropout rates have been reported in a previous volume of The Condition of Education (NCES 2004-077, indicator 16) and are featured in the annual report Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States (see, for example, NCES 2011-012).

Data from both the American Community Survey (ACS) and the October Current Population Survey (CPS) are used in The Condition of Education to estimate the percentage of the population ages 16 through 24 who are not in school and have not earned a high school credential (either a diploma or an equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate), irrespective of when they dropped out.

Within the CPS, the status dropout rate is the percentage of civilian, noninstitutionalized young people ages 16 through 24 who are not in school and have not earned a high school credential (either a diploma or equivalency credential such as a General Educational Development [GED] certificate). The numerator of the status dropout rate for a given year is the number of individuals ages 16 through 24 who, as of October of that year, have not completed a high school credential and are not currently enrolled in school. The denominator is the total number of individuals ages 16 through 24 in the United States in October of that year. Status dropout rates count as dropouts individuals who never attended school and immigrants who did not complete the equivalent of a high school education in their home country. The inclusion of these individuals is appropriate because the status dropout rate is designed to report the percentage of youth and young adults in the United States who lack what is now considered a basic level of education. However, the status dropout rate should not be used as a measure of the performance of U.S. schools because it counts as dropouts individuals who may have never attended a U.S. school.

The ACS first collected in 2009 allows for more detailed comparisons of status dropout rates by race/ ethnicity, nativity, and sex, and, unlike the CPS, includes institutionalized persons, incarcerated persons, and active duty military personnel living in barracks in the United States. The CPS provides several decades of historical trends on status dropouts that are not available from the ACS. The disadvantage of using CPS data to compute status dropout rates for the civilian, noninstitutionalized population is that military personnel and incarcerated or institutionalized persons are excluded. A disadvantage of both the CPS and ACS is that the datasets include as dropouts individuals who never attended U.S. schools, including immigrants who did not complete the equivalent of a high school education in their home country. Estimates of status dropout rates from the ACS and CPS are not directly comparable due to methodological differences, such as differing sampling frames, modes of administration, and question wording. For more information on the CPS and the ACS, see Appendix B – Guide to Sources.

Educational Attainment

This measure uses March CPS data to estimate the percentage of civilian, noninstitutionalized people ages 25 through 29 who have achieved certain levels of educational attainment. Estimates of educational attainment represent the percentage of adults who completed at least the cited credential. Attainment estimates do not differentiate between those who graduated from public schools, those who graduated from private schools, and those who earned a GED. These estimates also include individuals who earned their credential or completed their highest level of education outside of the United States.

From 1972 to 1991, two CPS questions provided data on the number of years of school completed: (1) "What is the highest grade or year of regular school...has ever attended?" and (2) "Did...complete that grade (year)?" An individual's educational attainment was considered to be his or her last fully completed year of school. Individuals who completed 12 years of schooling were deemed to be high school graduates, as were those who began but did not complete the first year of college. Respondents who completed 16 or more years of schooling were counted as college graduates.

Beginning in 1992, the CPS combined the two questions into the following question: "What is the highest level of school... completed or the highest degree...received?" This change means that some data collected before 1992 are not strictly comparable with data collected from 1992 onward, and that care must be taken when making comparisons across years. The revised question changed the response categories from "highest grade completed" to "highest level of schooling or degree completed." The revised question emphasizes credentials received rather than the last grade level attended or completed. The new categories include the following:

  • High school graduate, high school diploma, or the equivalent (e.g., GED)
  • Some college but no degree
  • Associate's degree in college, occupational/ vocational program
  • Associate's degree in college, academic program (e.g., A.A., A.S., A.A.S.)
  • Bachelor's degree (e.g., B.A., A.B., B.S.)
  • Master's degree (e.g., M.A., M.S., M.Eng., M.Ed., M.S.W., M.B.A.)
  • Professional school degree (e.g., M.D., D.D.S., D.V.M., LL.B., J.D.)
  • Doctorate degree (e.g., Ph.D., Ed.D.)

High School Completion

Since 1988, an additional question has also asked respondents if they have a high school diploma or the equivalent, such as a GED. People who respond "yes" are classified as high school completers. Before 1988, the number of individuals who earned a high school equivalency certificate was small compared to the number of high school graduates, so the subsequent increase caused by including equivalency certificate recipients in the total number of people counted as "high school completers" was small in the years immediately after the change was made.

Before 1992, the CPS considered individuals who completed 12th grade to be high school graduates. A revision in 1992 added the response category "12th grade, no diploma." Individuals who select this response are not counted as graduates. Historically, the number of individuals in this category has been small.

Some College

Based on the question used in 1992 and in subsequent surveys, the response for an individual who attended college for less than a full academic year would be "some college but no degree." Before 1992, the appropriate response would have been "attended first year of college and did not complete it," thereby excluding those individuals with 1–3 years of college from the calculation of the percentage of the population. With the revised question, such respondents are placed in the "some college but no degree" category. The percentage of individuals with some college might be larger than the percentage with 1–3 years of college, because "some college" includes those who have not completed one entire year. Therefore, it is not appropriate to make comparisons between the percentage of those with "some college but no degree" (using the post- 1991 question) and the percentage of those who completed "1–3 years of college" (using the two pre-1992 questions).

College Completion

Some students attend college for 4 or more years without earning a bachelor's degree, so some researchers are concerned that the college completion rate, based on the pre-1992 category "4th year or higher of college completed," overstates the number of respondents with a bachelor's degree (or higher). In fact, however, the completion rates among those ages 25–29 in 1992 and 1993 were similar to the completion rates for 1990 and 1991, before the change in the question's wording. Thus, there appears to be good reason to conclude that the change has not affected the completion rates reported in The Condition of Education 2012.

An advantage of using CPS data to compute educational attainment estimates is that estimates can be computed on an annual basis for various demographic subgroups of adults. A disadvantage of using CPS data to compute the educational attainment rate is that these data exclude all military personnel living in barracks and incarcerated or institutionalized persons.

For more information on the CPS, see Appendix B – Guide to Sources.

Classification of Postsecondary Education Institutions and Degrees

The U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) employs various categories to classify postsecondary institutions.

The term postsecondary institutions is the category used to refer to institutions with formal instructional programs and a curriculum designed primarily for students who have completed the requirements for a high school diploma or its equivalent.

This includes programs whose purpose is academic or vocational, as well as continuing professional education programs, and excludes avocational and adult basic education programs. For many analyses, however, comparing all institutions in this broad universe of postsecondary institutions would not be appropriate. Thus, postsecondary institutions are placed in one of three levels, based on the highest award offered at the institution:

  • 4-year-and-above institutions: Institutions or branches that offer programs of at least 4 years' duration or offer programs at or above the baccalaureate level. These institutions award a 4-year degree or higher in one or more programs or award a postbaccalaureate or postmaster's. Includes schools that offer postbaccalaureate certificates only or those that offer graduate programs only. Also includes freestanding medical, law, or other first-professional schools.
  • 2-year but less-than-4-year institutions: A postsecondary institution that offers programs of at least 2 but less than 4 years' duration. Includes occupational and vocational schools with programs of at least 1,800 contact hours and academic institutions with programs of less than 4 years' duration. Does not include 4-year institutions that offer accelerated versions of their bachelor's degree programs, in which a bachelor's degree may be obtained in less than 4 years.
  • Less-than-2-year institutions: Institutions or branches that offer programs of less than 2 years' duration below the baccalaureate level. Includes occupational and vocational schools with programs that do not exceed 1,800 contact hours.

IPEDS also classifies institutions at each of the three levels of institutions by financial control:

  • Public institutions: Institutions whose programs and activities are operated by publicly elected or appointed school officials and which are supported primarily by public funds.
  • Private not-for-profit institutions: Institutions in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives no compensation other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk. These include both independent not-for-profit schools and those affiliated with a religious organization.
  • Private for-profit institutions: Institutions in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives compensation other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk (e.g., proprietary schools).

An institution in any of these nine possible sectors formed by the various combinations of institution level and financial control, above, can also be classified as degree- or non-degree-granting, based on whether the institution offers students a formal award such as a degree or certificate:

  • Degree-granting institutions offer associate's, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and/or first-professional degrees that a state agency recognizes or authorizes.
  • Non-degree-granting institutions offer other kinds of credentials and exist at all types of financial control (i.e., public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit institutions).

The number of 4-year-and-above non-degree-granting institutions is small compared with the total number of non-degree-granting institutions.

Institutions in any of the nine sectors can also be Title IV-participating or not. For an institution to participate in federal Title IV Higher Education Act, Part C, financial aid programs, it must offer a program of study at least 300 clock hours in length; have accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education; have been in business for at least 2 years; and have a Title IV participation agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. All indicators in this volume using IPEDS data present only Title IV-participating institutions. For more information on the Higher Education Act of 2008, see

In some indicators based on IPEDS data, 4-year-andabove degree-granting institutions are further classified according to the highest degree awarded:

  • Doctoral institutions award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year.
  • Master's institutions award at least 20 master's degrees per year.

The remaining institutions are considered to be other 4-year degree-granting institutions. The number of degrees awarded by an institution in a given year is obtained for each institution from data published in the IPEDS "Completions Survey" (IPEDS-C).

The structure of the IPEDS collection of data on degrees conferred changed beginning with the 2007–08 academic year. Prior to 2007–08, colleges reported the number of first-professional degrees separate from the number of doctoral degrees. In addition, doctoral degrees were reported as a single category. In the 2008–09 academic year, institutions were required (optional in the 2007–08 academic year) to discontinue reporting first-professional degrees as a separate category and to integrate them into the master's and doctoral degrees categories; additionally, required in the 2008–09 academic year, the doctoral degrees could be reported in three different classifications: professional practice, research/scholarship, and other. In order to present consistent national data over time, the data for the institutions reporting in the new structure were cross-walked to the old structure. The master's and doctoral degrees awarded in fields of study classified in the Classification of Instruction Programs (CIP) as "formerly considered first-professional" were reclassified as firstprofessional degree awards. Therefore, data presented in The Condition of Education on completed degrees from 2007–08 onward may not match reported totals within other publications. The specific fields and CIP programs cross-walked in this manner were the following:

  • 51.0401 Dentistry (D.D.S. or D.M.D.)
  • 51.1201 Medicine (M.D.)
  • 51.1701 Optometry (O.D.)
  • 51.1901 Osteopathic medicine (D.O.)
  • 51.2001 Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
  • 51.2101 Podiatry (Pod.D. or D.P.) or podiatric medicine (D.P.M.)
  • 51.2401 Veterinary medicine (D.V.M.)
  • 51.0101 Chiropractic (D.C. or D.C.M.)
  • 22.0101 Law (LL.B. or J.D.)
  • 39.0602 Theology (M. Div., M.H.L., B.D., or Ord. and M.H.L./Rav.).

Further information about IPEDS is available in Appendix B – Guide to Sources. Further information about the various IPEDS classifications is available at

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