U.S. Census data can be extremely and uniquely informative in performing research on community colleges and their populations to answer questions like how family income impacts student outcomes, or what’s the typical return-on-investment of a college degree, says Vivian Liu, quantitative researcher with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University (New York).
“For a lot of these questions, we go to the Census,” she says. “The answers to our questions are only as good or accurate as the data we have. The Census covers the entire nation. You can ask the same questions by state, or by community, by Hispanic or African-American or lower-income groups. You can drill down and ask those questions.”
Community college students might not understand how filling out the Census is relevant, but colleges themselves are well-aware, Liu says.
“Students should remember that these bigger questions that they are facing — should I get an associate degree or transfer — those are not questions that only they are facing,” she says. “Research into that (question) will help them get to a conclusion.”