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Fact Sheet: Differences between the School Enrollment Estimates from the American Community Survey and the October Supplement to the Current Population Survey

The American Community Survey (ACS) is the largest household survey in the United States. Like the decennial census long form it was designed to replace, the ACS provides school enrollment estimates for small geographic areas - cities, counties, and metropolitan areas of 65,000 each year, and multi-year averages to provide estimates for all areas down to census tracts/block groups. Estimates for the nation and states are also available. All ACS estimates are updated annually. The American Community Survey’s five year data file also provides information on school districts. These data can be located through the American FactFinder.

With a detailed questionnaire and an experienced interviewing staff, the Current Population Survey provides high quality information on a number of other socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, including income, health insurance coverage, school enrollment, marital status, and family structure.

The following chart summarizes key differences between the ACS and the CPS:

Topic American Community Survey Current Population Survey
Principal Purpose The ACS replaces the decennial census long form by providing annual (or multi-year average) estimates of selected social, economic, and housing characteristics of the population for many geographic areas and subpopulations. The CPS produces socioeconomic and demographic estimates for the United States, and estimates for states for selected characteristics and subpopulations.
Geography Single-year data files provide information for the nation, states, and cities and counties of 65,000 or more. Three-year data files provide data for areas with population size of 20,000 or larger. Five-year data files provide data for areas as small as census tracts and block groups using multi-year averages. CPS data are designed to represent the nation, regions, and states for selected characteristics. School enrollment data are generally available only at the national level.
Sample Size The ACS sample consists of around 3 million housing units and group quarters living facilities per year. Data are collected from about one-twelfth of the sample each month. Annual sample size is about 72,000 housing units.
Data Collection Method Mail, telephone, and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. About half the responses are obtained by mail. The ACS is a mandatory survey. Telephone and personal-visit interviews for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The CPS is a voluntary survey.
Residency Status The ACS includes people at the address where they are at the time of the survey if they have been there, or will be there, more than 2 months, whether or not they have a "usual residence elsewhere." The CPS sample unit’s householder (one of the people in whose name the unit is rented or owned) must consider the unit to be his or her place of usual residence (where he or she spends most of the time during the year) to be counted as an occupied unit, which is traditional in most censuses and housing surveys. If a family has more than one home, the interviewer has to determine if the sample unit is its usual residence.
Population Universe The ACS universe includes both the civilian and military population in households and in group quarters (that is, the resident population). The group quarters population consists of the institutionalized (such as people in correctional institutions or nursing homes) and the noninstitutionalized (most of whom are in college dormitories). The CPS represents the civilian noninstitutionalized population. This universe includes civilians in households, people in noninstitutional group quarters (other than military barracks) and military in households living off post or with their families on post (as long as at least one household member is a civilian adult). The universe excludes other military in households and in group quarters (barracks), and people living in institutions.
Question Detail The ACS asks respondents every month, "At any time in the last 3 months, has this person attended regular school or college?" and whether enrollment was in a public school or private school. If enrolled, the respondent is then asked what grade or level this person attended. In the month of October, the CPS asks a detailed list of questions about school enrollment in the current and past year. There are separate questions for adults 15 years and older and for children 3-14 years old.
Unique Measures/data ACS enrollment data can be produced at the national level and very small levels of geography. The CPS provides data regarding enrollment status and level for the previous year, whether the respondent is currently attending school on a full-time or part-time basis, whether they attend a 2-year or a 4-year institution, whether they are obtaining any vocational training and whether they earned their degree or diploma in the current year.
Technical Issues ACS statistics on school enrollment are based on interviews conducted during the entire year. This results in estimates of age of enrollment by grade that differ from those produced by CPS

The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of July 1.
CPS statistics on enrollment are based on interviews conducted in October.

The weighting is controlled to population estimates as of October 1.
Sampling error information All published tables provide measures of error. Measures of error for estimates produced by users can be computed by data users. Measures of error can be computed by data users.
Historical data The ACS began national implementation in 2000, with a limited sample size. Full implementation with coverage of all geographic areas began in 2005. Enrollment data from the CPS have been gathered and published since 1947.
Electronic accessibility American Factfinder provides 16 different detailed tables which the user can produce for any selected geographical area. Also provided are several summary tables, comparison tables, and profiles that summarize information in the detailed tables.

Users can use DataFerrett to produce many of the tables from American Factfinder, as well as their own tables from public use data.
The Census Bureau publishes 23 national data tables each year, along with 8 historical tables updated each year. These are available on the School Enrollment home page.

Public use files are available to users via DataFerrett.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau |School Enrollment |  Last Revised: July 17, 2012