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Disaggregate: Urbanicity


Whether an individual or institution is located in an urban, suburban, town, or rural area

Why it matters

Place-based characteristics influence opportunities for students, as well as challenges they may face. For example, those in urban areas may be more likely to experience pollution and violence, whereas those in rural areas may have more difficulty accessing health care and transportation. A study by ACT Research suggests a third of residents in rural areas do not have access to high-quality broadband internet and found that rural students are less likely to rate their home internet as “great” and more likely to rate it as “unpredictable” than non-rural students. The same study found that students in rural schools are less likely to enroll in rigorous coursework (including advanced math or science courses and Advanced Placement [AP] classes) than non-rural students, and more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, such as varsity athletics and student government.

What to know about measurement

Urbanicity can be defined according to the categories developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in partnership with the Census Bureau. They include four major locale categories—city, suburban, town, and rural—each of which contain three subtypes, for a total of 12 categories. The categories are based not just on population size, but also on proximity to larger urban centers, and can be determined for a given location using a geographic database maintained by the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau also classifies census blocks according to three broader categories—urban areas, urban clusters, and rural areas—which are updated after each decennial census.

Source frameworks

“Urbanicity” did not appear in any source frameworks reviewed for this report, but three frameworks—the National Academies Key National Education Indicators, the California Cradle-to-Career Data System, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Higher Education in Prison Key Performance Indicator Framework —recommend capturing “region” or “geography.”


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

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