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$52 million contract commits Ohio State to national survey project

A $52 million dollar federal contract renewal between Ohio State and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will ensure the continuation of the university’s involvement in a set of national research projects that began nearly 50 years ago.

The contract renewal will allow the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth project to work through November 2019, said Randall Olsen, the director of OSU’s Center for Human Resource Research, which administers the NLS.

David Manderscheid, vice provost and executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the project is reflective of the work that is done at the university.

“The NLS is one of the most important sources of data for social scientists and it’s based here at OSU,” Manderscheid said.

The longitudinal research focuses on understanding the labor market by surveying different cohorts of individuals across the country.

Surveys include questions concerning one’s education, family life, sexual activity, health conditions, financial assets and career pathways. These questions allow the researchers to understand how aspects of early life can be important later in life, said Elizabeth Cooksey, professor of sociology.

“These studies typically start when people are in high school and follow them for their entire lives,” Olsen said.

The first group to be surveyed was found in late 1979, consisting of about 12,000 men and women aged 14-21 from across the nation. Since then, new groups have been added, including a survey of biological children of women in the 1979 group and a survey of men and women born between 1980 and 1984, giving a total of more than 30,000 participants nationwide, Cooksey said.

Participants are interviewed every two years, with questions pertaining to their age group.

One example, according to Cooksey, is information regarding crime and drug use.

“By asking about drug use and criminal behaviors when individuals are in high school, we can eventually see what pathways people take to grow out of these delinquent behaviors,” Cooksey said.

The research also shows effects the Great Recession has had on families and students.

“We can properly see what is better now and what is worse,” Manderscheid said.

The data has been published by researchers in over 8,000 publications, which provides people with an insight to the labor force market, Olsen said.

“There is a lot of debate today about whether going to college is a good idea,” he said. “Because we have the luxury of tracking tens of thousands of people, we can see how much their earnings grew in certain years and how it relates to their education.”

Cooksey, who will be taking over the CHRR in July, agreed.

“There’s so many different things people can look at with our data,” Cooksey said. “We’ve discovered the different ways into the labor market — with education and training, what is necessary and how education is more important in today’s world.”

Manderscheid said the university’s involvement in the NLS affords students and researchers with unique access to data and research opportunities.

“The NLS project provides a rich source of data so students can get involved in research projects working with OSU researchers and the research team.”

The CHRR and NLS program have been recognized as providing valuable national data, Cooksey said.

“It really is a national treasure that is held right here at Ohio State,” Cooksey said.

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