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National Science Foundation
Survey Descriptions
Higher Education Surveys
Publications and Data:
National Center for Science and
  Engineering Statistics (NCSES)
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Higher Education Surveys

Overview  Survey Design  Trend Data  Availability of data

1. Overview Top of Page.

a. Purpose

The Higher Education Surveys (HES) system was established to conduct ad hoc surveys of higher education institutions on topics of interest to Federal policymakers and the education community. Unlike the other surveys described in this volume, the HES surveys are not recurring surveys.

b. Respondents

Survey coordinators at the responding institutions identify individuals at their institutions who are appropriate to respond to a particular HES survey. Depending on the topic of a given survey, these could be department chairpersons, registrars, financial aid directors, etc.

c. Key variables

The variables differ from survey to survey. Variables are typically limited to information likely to be readily available to the institution.

2. Survey design Top of Page.

a. Target population and sample frame

The HES population consists of U.S. colleges and universities. Individual surveys may be targeted at a subset of the larger population, e.g., 2-year and community colleges.

b. Sample design

In 1991 there were 1,134 institutions in the total HES sample. The HES sample is stratified by control (private versus public), size of enrollment, and region of the country. Sample election within strata is based on probability proportionate to the square root of enrollment. Further subsampling may be used to conduct specific surveys within this series and/or some additional institutions may be added to the population surveyed.

c. Data collection techniques

The surveys are conducted under contract to SRS by Westat. Questionnaires are mailed to institutional coordinators who are responsible for identifying the appropriate respondents for the survey and collecting the questionnaires from them. Follow-up is by phone.

d. Estimation techniques

Base weights are assigned to responses within sampling strata. These weights are the inverse of sampling probabilities associated with the institution. An adjustment for nonresponse is made or each sampling stratum by using a ratio of the sum of the number of responses plus the number of refusals to the number of responses. The final weight used is the product of the base weight and the nonresponse weight.

e. Possible sources of error

(1) Sampling - The amount of sampling error varies from survey to survey, depending upon the subsample methodology employed in the particular survey. Information about sampling errors is contained in the survey reports.

(2) Coverage - Institutional coverage is excellent when all colleges and universities are included in the target population. However, surveys targeted at subgroups of the institutional population are more prone to coverage error because of the possibility that information on the sample frame that affects the institution's in-scope classification has changed over time.

(3) Unit nonresponse - Response rates for this survey are typically over 90 percent. Sample weights are adjusted for nonresponse within strata.

(4) Item nonresponse - Item response rates are generally above 95 percent.

(5) Measurement - To minimize nonsampling errors due to differential interpretation of items, questionnaires are pretested with respondents similar to those who have completed the survey and the questionnaire and instructions are reviewed by NSF. Manual and machine editing of the questionnaires is conducted to check data for accuracy and consistency. Telephone calls are made to clarify cases with missing or inconsistent items; data are rekeyed for 100 percent verification. Even with all these checks, however, measurement error remains a possible source of error that is difficult to estimate.

3. Trend data Top of Page.

The nonrecurring nature of the surveys in this series precludes their use for trend analysis.

4. Availability of data Top of Page.

a. Publications

The data from this survey are published as Higher Education Surveys. Examples of recent reports include Undergraduate Education in Electrical, Mechanical, and Civil Engineering, March 1994 (HES 16), Survey on Undergraduate Education in Sociology, December 1992 (HES 15), Survey on Retention at Higher Education Institutions, November 1991 (HES 14), and Plant Biology Personnel and Training at Doctorate-Granting Institutions, December 1990 Information from some of these surveys is also included in Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering and in Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education, produced by NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

b. Electronic access

Aggregate data from HES surveys is available in electronic format from CASPAR.

c. Contact for more information

Additional information about this survey can be obtained by contacting:

Lawrence Burton
Senior Analyst
Science and Engineering Education and Human Resources Program
Division of Science Resources Statistics
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 292-7794
Internet: lburton@nsf.gov

Last updated: March 1, 1999


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