Over the last few years, national statistics collections have come under fire, at least on the surface, over concerns about personal privacy (the survey is mandatory). It’s an issue that can be controlled for, through anonymization of data, aggregation of records, and/or sitting on public release of the data for decades.
Yet the efforts persist. AAAS has issued a call to the U.S. Census Bureau to not remove a question from the American Community Survey, an annual survey conducted by the Bureau to track demographic changes. The Bureau is currently reviewing the survey for possible revisions, taking comments through December 30.
The question prompting AAAS to comment is number 12:
“Undergraduate Field of Degree—This question focuses on this person’s Bachelor’s Degree. Please print below the specific major(s) of any Bachelor’s Degrees this person has received.”
Per the Federal Register notice, the Bureau’s analysis concluded that this question was Low Cost/Low Value.
As you might expect, AAAS challenged the Low Value characterization of the question, noting that the undergraduate major matters to assessments of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and STEM disciplines. Not having this resource available for analysis will shift the cost of collecting this information to parties that perhaps aren’t as well equipped as the Census Bureau. As AAAS writes in its letter:
“In addition, this Question is a critical component to other congressionally mandated surveys and is a cost efficient way to gather important data that multiple stakeholders can utilize, including the federal government. For example, Question 12 is a key data point in the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG). The Census Bureau should carefully weigh the added costs to other government surveys that will be impacted by its elimination.”
If you’d like to chime in, on question 12 or any other, you have until December 30.