Using Census Date to Classify Community College Students By Socioeconomic Status and Community Characteristics

Jenkins, Paul Davis; Leinbach, D. Timothy; Crosta, Peter Michael; Prince, David; Whittaker, Doug

Colleges and state higher education agencies too 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 better understand patterns and determinants of student success, since research shows that SES is a key factor in college access and attainment (Adelman, 1999; Cabrera, Burkum, and La Nasa, 2005; Long, 2004; Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005; Rouse, 1995). The paper is organized as follows: Following this introduction, the second section describes how we linked students with block groups to estimate their SES, defined in terms of household income, education, and occupation. We did this analysis using data from both the 1990 and 2000 Censuses. In the third section, we used cluster analysis to combine Census block groups into 15 demographically distinctive “community clusters,” and then matched each student with a cluster. Doing this enabled us to classify students according to a richer set of information than just income, education, and occupation. These community clusters will be useful to the WSBCTC and its member colleges in gauging their “market penetration” in various demographic sectors of the state, and in identifying particular communities where students may face barriers to college access. Given the interest of the state in ensuring access to college by students from low-income families, the fourth section shows how the community clusters break out by SES. We conclude with some suggestions for ways that state agencies and colleges in other states can use this methodology.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Community College Research Center
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
April 3, 2014