tc columbia

CCRC Research Tools No. 1: Using Census Data to Classify Community College Students by Socioeconomic Status and Community Characteristics

By: Davis Jenkins, D. Timothy Leinbach, Peter M. Crosta, David Prince & Doug Whittaker

Abstract

CCRC Research Tools No. 1: Using Census Data to Classify Community College Students by Socioeconomic Status and Community Characteristics

Colleges and higher education agencies often lack accurate information about the socioeconomic status (SES) of their students. Information on family income, education levels, and other demographics is available for students who fill out a Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA), but at most colleges, only a portion of students do so. This presents a problem for efforts to understand patterns and determinants of student success, since SES is a key factor in college access and attainment.

This paper describes the methodology that CCRC researchers used to estimate the SES of individual students in the Washington State community and technical college system using SES descriptors from census information on their geographic area of residence. Data collected for the decennial census provide indicators of SES for relatively small, homogeneous geographic areas known as block groups. The authors matched students addresses with census block groups and then classified them according to the average SES characteristics of their block group.

The authors conclude with some suggestions for ways that state agencies and colleges in other states could use this methodology.