The National Center for Education Statistics (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 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than 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.
NCES's urban-centric locale categories, released in 2006
|Large||Territory inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with population of 250,000 or more|
|Midsize||Territory inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with population less than 250,000 and greater than or equal to 100,000|
|Small||Territory inside an urbanized area and inside a principal city with population less than 100,000|
|Large||Territory outside a principal city and inside an urbanized area with population of 250,000 or more|
|Midsize||Territory outside a principal city and inside an urbanized area with population less than 250,000 and greater than or equal to 100,000|
|Small||Territory outside a principal city and inside an urbanized area with population less than 100,000|
|Fringe||Territory inside an urban cluster that is less than or equal to 10 miles from an urbanized area|
|Distant||Territory inside an urban cluster that is more than 10 miles and less than or equal to 35 miles from an urbanized area|
|Remote||Territory inside an urban cluster that is more than 35 miles from an urbanized area|
|Fringe||Census-defined rural territory that is less than or equal to 5 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is less than or equal to 2.5 miles from an urban cluster|
|Distant||Census-defined rural territory that is more than 5 miles but less than or equal to 25 miles from an urbanized area, as well as rural territory that is more than 2.5 miles but less than or equal to 10 miles from an urban cluster|
|Remote||Census-defined rural territory that is more than 25 miles from an urbanized area and is also more than 10 miles from an urban cluster|
|SOURCE: Office of Management and Budget (2000). Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas; Notice. Federal Register (65) No. 249.|
These twelve categories are based on several 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; those with populations between 2,500 and 50,000 are designated as urban clusters. For more information on urbanized areas and urban clusters, click here. Rural areas are designated by the Census Bureau as those areas that do not lie inside an urbanized area or urban cluster.
NCES has classified all schools into one of these twelve categories based on schools' actual addresses and their corresponding coordinates of latitude and longitude. Not only does this mean that the location of any school can be identified precisely, but also that distance measures can be used to identify town and rural subtypes. Unlike the previous classification system that differentiated towns on the basis of population size, the urban-centric system differentiates towns and rural areas on the basis of their proximity to larger urban centers. This key feature allows NCES to identify and differentiate rural schools and school districts in relatively remote areas from those that may be located just outside an urban center.
Until 2006 three different urban/rural classification systems were used by NCES: Beale codes, Metro Status codes, and Metro-centric locale codes.