Skip Navigation

Note 1: Commonly Used Variables (2009)

Certain common variables, such as parents' education, race/ethnicity, community type, and poverty are used in the various surveys cited in The Condition of Education 2009. The definitions for these variables can vary across surveys and sometimes between different time periods of a single survey. This supplemental note describes how several common variables, used in various indicators in this volume, are defined in each of the surveys. In addition, this note describes how certain terms are used in these indicators.

Parents' Education

Data for parents' education in indicators 3 include (1) less than high school, (2) high school diploma or equivalent, (3) some college, (4) bachelor's degree, and (5) any graduate education. The category "high school equivalent" refers to tests, such as the General Education Development (GED) test, which, when passed, certify that the taker demonstrates high school-level academic skills. For more information on the ECLS-B, see supplemental note 3.

Parents' level of education is generally measured by either the highest level of education attained by the mother or the highest level of education attained by either parent. Indicators 13 report parents' highest level of education based on a question in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that asks students in the 8th and 12th grades to indicate the highest level of educa-tion completed by each parent. Students could choose from "did not finish high school," "graduated from high school," "some education after high school," "graduated from college," and "I don't know." For more information on NAEP, see supplemental note 4.

Indicator 18, based on the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), uses the highest level of education attained by the child's mother. For this indicator, mother's education was constructed using three items: (1) the highest grade completed, (2) whether she obtained a vocational or technical diploma after high school, and (3) whether she obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a GED, if she had not completed high school. For more information on NHES, see supplemental note 3.


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. These classifications are designed to provide comparable data to monitor equal access in areas such as housing, education, and employment for population groups that historically have experienced discrimination and differential treatment because of their race or ethnicity. By using the standard to tabulate data in these areas by race and ethnicity, it is possible to compare disparities across data systems. 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.

The 1997 standards emphasize self-reporting or self-identification as the preferred method for collecting data on race and ethnicity. The standards do not establish criteria or qualifications (such as blood quantum levels) that are to be used in determining a particular individual's racial or ethnic classification. They do not specify how an individual should classify himself or herself. In situations where self-reporting is not practicable or feasible, observer identification may be used. For indicator 5, which uses data from the Private School Survey, racial/ethnic classifications are based on school reports of race/ethnicity for aggregate K-12 enrollment. The 1997 standards reflect a change in data collection policy, making it possible for federal agencies to collect information that reflects the increasing diversity of the United States population.

Under the OMB standards, "Hispanic or Latino" is an ethnicity category, not a racial category. Where agencies collect data on race and ethnicity separately, data on ethnicity must be collected first. Ethnicity is categorized as follows:

Race categories presented in The Condition of Education 2009 exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity; thus, the race/ethnicity categories are mutually exclusive. Racial groupings are as follows:

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 More than one race. 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 survey sampling plans did not distinguish between groups (between Asians and Pacific Islanders, for example). In other cases, omissions occur because only comparable data categories are shown. For example, the category "More than one race," 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 http://www.

In The Condition of Education 2009, the above definitions of race/ethnicity apply to indicators 24, which use data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The above definitions are currently being phased into the IPEDS data collection for academic year 2008-09. For more information on IPEDS, see supplemental note 3.

Community Type

Federal departments and agencies use various classification systems to define community types. Indicators in The Condition of Education rely on one or a combination of the following three classification systems: the Office of Management and Budget's system of metropolitan areas, which is used by the Census Bureau; the Census Bureau's system of urbanized/urban/rural areas; and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) system of locale codes, although most indicators in The Condition of Education 2009 use the urban-centric locale code system that was released in 2006.

Metropolitan Areas

The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) classifies community type based on the concept of a metropolitan area, which has changed in its application over time. Between 1990 and 2000, the Census and the CPS used the term "metropolitan area" (MA) to refer collectively to Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas (PMSAs), and Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Areas (CMSAs) (defined below). In 2000, the Census adopted the term "Core Based Statistical Area" (CBSA), which refers collectively to metropolitan statistical areas and (the newly introduced concept of) micropolitan statistical areas.

Metropolitan Areas—1990 Standards

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines and designates metropolitan areas, following standards established by the interagency Federal Executive Committee on Metropolitan Areas, with the aim of producing definitions that are as consistent as possible for all MAs nationwide. Under its 1990 standards, the OMB defined an MA as "a large population nucleus together with adjacent communities that have a high degree of economic and social integration with that core." The Census Bureau used this definition for an MA from 1990 to 2000. (See cph-s-1-1.pdf for more details.)

In order to be designated as an MA under the 1990 standards, an area had to meet one or both of the following criteria: (1) include a city with a population of at least 50,000 or (2) include a Census Bureau-defined urbanized area of at least 50,000 and have a total MA population of at least 100,000 (75,000 in New England). Under the 1990 standards, the "central county" (or counties) contained either the central city (defined below) or at least 50 percent of the population of the central city, or had at least 50 percent of its population in an urbanized area. Additional ''outlying counties'' were included in the MA if they met specified requirements of commuting to the central counties and selected requirements of metropolitan character (such as population density and percent urban). In New England, MAs were defined in terms of cities and towns, following rules analogous to those used with counties elsewhere.

The individual counties (or other geographic entities) comprising each MA were either designated as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or, if the MA was large enough (1 million in population or more), as a Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area (CMSA) composed of two or more Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas (PMSAs). For example, the PMSA "Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI" combined with the PMSA "Racine, WI" to form the CMSA of "Milwaukee-Racine, WI." CMSAs could span states, as was the case with the CMSA "Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PANJDE-MD." (In June 1999, there were 258 MSAs and 18 CMSAs in the United States, which included a total of 73 PMSAs.)

All territory, population, and housing units inside of MAs were characterized as metropolitan. Any territory, population, or housing units located outside of an MA were defined as nonmetropolitan. The largest city in each MA was designated a central city, and additional cities could qualify as such if specified requirements were met concerning population size and commuting patterns. (In June 1999, there were 542 central cities in the United States plus 12 in Puerto Rico.)

Together these classifications were used to define a location's MA Status as one of the following:

Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas—2000 Standards

In 2000, the OMB defined metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas as "a core area containing a substantial population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core." Together, metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas are considered to constitute the "Core Based Statistical Area" (CBSA). Currently defined metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas are based on the application of OMB's 2000 standards to 2000 decennial census data. (Current metropolitan and micropolitan statistical area definitions were announced by OMB effective June 6, 2003.)

In order to be designated as a CBSA under the 2000 standards, an area must contain at least one "urban" area (that is, an urbanized area or urban cluster—see definitions of urbanized area and urban cluster below) with a population of 10,000 or more. Each metropolitan statistical area—now referred to as a "metro area" to distinguish it from the metropolitan statistical areas referred to as "MSAs" under the 1990 standards—must have at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more inhabitants. Each micropolitan statistical area must have at least one urban cluster with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000. Under the standards, the county (or counties) in which at least 50 percent of the population resides in urban areas with populations of 10,000 or more, or that contains at least 5,000 people residing in a single urban area with a population of 10,000 or more, is identified as a "central county" (or counties). Additional "outlying counties" are included in the CBSA if they meet specified requirements of commuting to or from the central counties. Counties or equivalent entities form the geographic "building blocks" for metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. (As of June 6, 2000, there were 362 metropolitan statistical areas and 560 micropolitan statistical areas in the United States. In addition, there were eight metro areas and five micropolitan statistical areas in Puerto Rico.) (See estimates/aboutmetro.html for more details.)

Together, these classifications are used to define a location's CBSA status (or, if no micropolitan statistical areas are included, metro area status) as one of the following: