Penn State will be home to one of 16 U.S. Census Research Data Centers beginning in January 2014. The centers provide approved researchers access to economic and census data that are currently restricted and difficult to obtain.
The facility will provide a secure connection to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. The Research Data Center (RDC) at Penn State will be a crucial resource for faculty members and graduate students in areas such as economics, demography, statistics, sociology and the health sciences.
“Today, researchers need to travel to Washington, D.C., for restricted versions of data sets,” said Jennifer Van Hook, the project’s principal investigator and professor of sociology and demography. “It’s like you’re stepping into a virtual part of the Census Bureau.”
Due to the information’s high confidentiality, researchers must go through several security steps to use the RDC and access data sets. Penn State will work with the Census Bureau to provide training and resources needed for researchers to use the facility. A bureau employee will oversee the center’s day-to-day operations in the Pattee/Paterno Library.
“For economics faculty members, this means everything,” said Mark Roberts, co-principal investigator and professor of economics. “Every five years, the bureau conducts a census on retail, wholesale and manufacturing. Those data are never released publicly, but the center will provide this useful data. It will be extremely valuable for research projects.” Roberts will serve as the center’s first director.
The RDC enhances research that covers an array of topics including the study of immigrant populations, housing markets, employment, voting, health disparities and more. It also builds opportunities for cross-university collaboration. The other 15 RDCs are mostly located in major cities and research hubs across the nation.
Roberts said cities and major research universities with RDCs have access to all the same research data. Penn State will have that too and open doors to a wide network of collaboration.
“Whether you are working with someone in Atlanta or at Duke, it’s extremely valuable that we can access the same information simultaneously,” Roberts said. “As the network grows, it becomes even more valuable.”
Center organizers will host a grand opening early in the spring semester. The RDC is a Social Science Research Institute unit.
Also working on this project are Marianne Hillemeier, associate professor of health policy administration; John Iceland, professor of sociology and demography; and Leif Jensen, Distinguished Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography.
The College of the Liberal Arts, College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Health and Human Development, Eberly College of Science, Penn State Libraries, Population Research Institute, Social Science Research Institute and the Office of the Vice President for Research funded the project. The National Science Foundation also provided three years of funding support.