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Locale Boundaries

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates (EDGE) program develops geographic data to help policymakers, program administrators, and the public understand relationships between educational institutions and the communities they serve. One commonly used data item is a school locale classification, a general geographic indicator that characterizes the type of community where a school is located. NCES uses locale information to help develop school-based sample surveys, and it incorporates locale assignments across most of its program areas. Although locale classifications are a familiar feature in NCES datasets, the geographic boundaries used to create locale assignments were not developed as a data product until 2015. The purpose of the locale boundary files is to provide annually updated boundaries in a spatial data format that can be used to support supplemental research and analysis. The boundaries allow data users to create locale indicators for additional institutions or locations, and they help to support analysis of physical features and social conditions that may affect education in each type of locale. For more information, see the Locale Boundaries file documentation (533 KB).

The NCES locale framework classifies all territory in the U.S. into four types of areas -- City, Suburban, Town, and Rural. Each area is divided into three subtypes based on population size (in the case of City and Suburban assignments) and proximity to urban areas (in the case of Town and Rural assignments). The classifications (350 KB) rely on standard urban and rural designations defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, and each type of locale is either urban or rural in its entirety. The NCES locales can be fully collapsed into a basic urban/rural dichotomy, or expanded into a more detailed collection of twelve distinct categories. NCES provides a locale assignment for each institution in its administrative data collections (Common Core of Data (CCD), Integrated Post-secondary Education Data Set (IPEDS), and the Private School Survey (PSS)), and locale assignments are included as an indicator in most NCES school-based sample surveys.

Census Geography Year School Year Applied National File State Files
2017 2017-2018 Entire US (457 MB)
2016 2016-2017 Entire US (453 MB)
2015 2015-2016 Entire US (463 MB)
2014 2014-2015 Entire US (433 MB)

Additional Resources

Supplemental Locales

  1. REAP Locales

    The U.S. Department of Education previously relied on supplemental geographic framework to support the needs of the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), an initiative that targets resources and provides additional administrative flexibility for small school systems that serve rural areas. REAP adopted the NCES locale framework when the program was reauthorized in 2015.
    Metro-centric Locale Boundaries (212 MB)

  2. E-Rate Locales

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) administers the E-Rate program to provide discounts to schools and libraries for purchases of telecommunications equipment and services. The program relies on school and district-level urban and rural assignments to determine the discount level. Urban assignments are based on territory that includes all Census-defined Urbanized Areas and all Urban Clusters with a population of 25,000 or more. Rural assignments are based on territory that includes all Census-defined rural territory, as well as Urban Clusters with a population less than 25,000. Although the U.S. Department of Education does not operate the E-Rate program, it serves many of the same schools and school districts that participate in E-Rate. Additional information about the E-Rate program is available at
    E-Rate Locale Boundaries (55 MB)


  1. Geverdt, D. (2015, December). Education Demographic and Geographic Estimates Program (EDGE): Locale Boundaries User’s Manual (NCES 2016-012). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics (1 MB)
  2. Geverdt, D. (2005). Review of NCES school locale tabulation and analysis. Technical Memorandum. Washington, DC. U.S. Census Bureau (814 KB)