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Ethnographic Study of the Group Quarters Population in the 2010 Census: College Student Residence Halls

Keri K. Stephens, Abigail Heller, and Anna Y. Chan


This study was conducted in the Spring of 2010 on a large college campus in the southwestern US. The project incorporated a multi-method approach that is congruent with an ethnographic study. Prior to the distribution of the 2010 Census, a research team took detailed field notes and conducted interviews to better understand residence halls and the media and message habits of 2010 college students. Direct observation of the enumeration and post-decennial interviews allowed the researchers to better understand concerns with the enumeration and the dynamic factors that could affect a future census coverage measurement effort. To capitalize on the fact that this was a large campus, the interviews examined several different residence halls and the attitudes of both staff and residents. Shortly after the residence hall enumeration, staff from Census Bureau headquarters (HQ) conducted a post-enumeration coverage measurement-like survey to see if it was feasible to conduct a coverage measurement operation in this type of group quarters. Residents from three of the residence halls on this same campus were selected to participate. Unlike the typical Census Coverage Measurement operation, which utilizes in-person interviews, this survey used a self-administered paper questionnaire. The contracted researchers assisted HQ staff by conducting a post-survey focus group to help understand the social perceptions of residence hall members who experienced a coverage measurement-like survey. The data were analyzed using ethnographic thematic analysis as well as coding and constant comparative analysis. The major findings were organized around four research questions: What is a 2010 residence hall? What enumeration problems existed in the residence halls during the 2010 Census? What communication media and technologies are most helpful to reach a college student population? What are the social and dynamic factors in a residence hall that affect a coverage measurement? The residence hall findings focus on describing who lives in a residence hall, the organizational culture differences among halls, the importance of security, flexible supervision, and the programming requirements on the staff.


Keri K. Stephens, Abigail Heller, and Anna Y. Chan. (2013). Ethnographic Study of the Group Quarters Population in the 2010 Census: College Student Residence Halls. Center for Survey Measurement Study Series (Survey Methodology #2013-12). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <>.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Research and Methodology Directorate, Center for Survey Measurement

Published online: April 24, 2013
Last revised: April 24, 2013


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Research and Methodology Directorate | Center for Survey Measurement | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: September 11, 2013