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Business and Policy Areas
Business and Policy Areas

ED Explains Privacy Rules for American Community Survey

January 13, 2010

The Department of Education has provided guidance on sharing information with the U.S. Census Bureau for its American Community Survey (ACS) while adhering to privacy rules mandated under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act for colleges and universities that provide student housing. The guidance largely tracks that provided earlier about the 2010 census.

The ACS is an ongoing monthly survey of a sample of housing units, including group housing quarters, which replaced the old long-form survey as part of the decennial census. After a decade of testing and phasing in the reengineered process, the Census Bureau is fully implementing the ACS in 2010. Group housing facilities that may be sampled on campus include dormitories and fraternity and sorority housing.

Prior to a visit from a Census field representative, an institution should receive a letter advising it that one of its housing facilities has been selected and that a representative will contact them to schedule a visit. During the visit, the representative will verify the type of housing, location, and number of residents. A small sample of residents will then be selected to answer the survey. The representative will ask the college contact to provide names and campus addresses for these students. This is disclosable directory information under FERPA as long as the institution has adopted a "directory information" policy that designates it as such and has given students the opportunity to opt out of disclosures.

Later in the survey process, if students fail to return the survey, the institutional contact may be asked to complete portions of the survey for them. Here again, unless prior written consent is obtained from the student, the institution may only disclose properly designated directory information. Items that may not be disclosed include sex, ethnicity, race, or social security number.

More detail about the ACS survey process at colleges and universities and FERPA is provided in the letter from ED's Family Policy Compliance Office. More information about the ACS survey generally is available from the Census Bureau.


Anne Gross
Vice President, Regulatory Affairs