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MU Statisticians to Develop Statistical Models for the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey

Models will impact an estimated $400 billion in government funding

Oct. 12, 2011

Story Contact(s):
MU News Bureau,, 573-882-6211

COLUMBIA, Mo. –The U.S. Census Bureau is in transition. The constitutionally mandated 10-year count (decennial census) remains, but an annual, on-going survey called The American Community Survey (ACS) has been established. To assist in this transition, University of Missouri statisticians have been awarded a $2.85 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau to develop new data analysis and modeling methodologies for the American Community Survey. These methodologies could help impact how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed annually.

“Our grant is part of the new NSF-Census Research Network, which was established to conduct long-term interdisciplinary and methodological research,” said Scott Holan, an associate professor of statistics who is managing the grant with Chris Wikle, professor of statistics. “As a part of this network, our research will focus on the ACS. The models we develop could potentially impact the way this data is used and help foster a deeper understanding of our communities.”

Census data are often used to determine where to allocate financial resources, and the transition from using the 10-year count to the ACS is expected to be a challenge for data users. The funding from the grant will help researchers develop a framework that allows users to conduct small area estimations. The methods that will be used are motivated by the investigators’ previous interdisciplinary experiences modeling environmental and ecological processes such as weather, ocean dynamics and invasive species.

“The models we develop can be applied to ACS data used by the U.S. Census Bureau to develop certain income and poverty estimates,” Wikle said. “Other agencies use this data to allocate funds for programs such as ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the ‘Schools Meals Program,’ and highway planning and construction.”

The funding is the largest grant ever awarded in the MU Department of Statistics in the College of Arts and Science. Researchers at The Ohio State University are also involved in the grant.

“A major component of this project is education,” Wikle said. “The U.S. Census Bureau is very interested in training the next generation of statisticians to work on these problems. At MU, we will be training undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.”