About MTF

Purposes of Monitoring the Future

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) project, begun in 1975, has many purposes. Among them is to study changes in the beliefs, attitudes, and behavior of young people in the United States. In recent years, the U.S. has experienced tremendous changes in public opinion toward such diverse issues as government and politics, alcohol and other drug use, gender roles, and protection of the environment. Much of our current upheaval in attitudes is especially concentrated, and often first seen, in today’s youth. This study focuses on youth because of their significant involvement in today’s social changes and, most important, because youth in a very literal sense will constitute our future society.

The results of the study are useful to policymakers at all levels of government, for example, to monitor progress toward national health goals. Study results are also used to monitor trends in substance use and abuse among adolescents and young adults and are used routinely in the White House Strategy on Drug Abuse.

Design of Monitoring the Future

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) project, also widely known for some years as the National High School Senior Survey, is a repeated series of surveys in which the same segments of the population (8th, 10th, and 12th graders; college students; and young adults) are presented with the same set of questions over a period of years to see how answers change over time.

The project has been conducted under a series of research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health. Surveys have been carried out each year since 1975 by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. MTF respondents are 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students who participate by completing self-administered, machine-readable questionnaires in their normal classrooms, administered by University personnel. In addition to the 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students, annual follow-up questionnaires are sent to a sample of each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation.

The survey began with senior classes in 1975, and each year about 16,000 students in approximately 133 public and private high schools nationwide participate. Beginning in 1991, similar surveys of nationally representative samples of 8th and 10th graders have been conducted annually; the 8th-grade samples contain about 18,000 students in about 150 schools, and the 10th-grade samples contain about 17,000 students in about 140 schools. In all, approximately 50,000 students in about 420 public and private secondary schools are surveyed annually.

Beginning with the class of 1976, a randomly selected sample from each senior class has been followed up biannually after high school on a continuing basis. These respondents receive an invitation to a web survey, which they complete online. Data collection for this group now continues on to age 60.

The study’s design permits the investigators to examine four kinds of change:

  • Changes in particular years reflected across all age groups (secular trends or “period effects”).
  • Developmental changes that show up consistently for all panels (“age effects”).
  • Consistent differences among class cohorts through the life cycle (“cohort effects”).
  • Changes linked to different types of environments (high school, college, employment) or role transitions (leaving the parental home, marriage, parenthood, etc.).

Sampling Procedures

The data from students are collected during the spring of each year. Each year’s data collection takes place in approximately 420 public and private high schools and middle schools selected to provide an accurate representative cross section of students throughout the coterminous United States at each grade level.

A multi-stage random sampling procedure is used for securing the nationwide sample of students each year at each grade level.

Stage 1: The selection of particular geographic areas.

Stage 2: The selection (with probability proportionate to size) of one or more schools in each area.

Stage 3: The selection of classes within each school.

Within each school, up to 350 students may be included. In schools with fewer students, the usual procedure is to include all of them in the data collection. In larger schools, a subset of students is selected either by randomly sampling entire classrooms or by some other random method that is judged to be unbaised. Sampling weights are used when the data are analyzed to correct for unequal probabilities of selection that occurred at any stage of sampling.

Administration

In-school Survey. About 10 days before the administration, the students are given flyers explaining the study. Also, advance letters to parents inform them about the study and provide them a handy means for declining their child’s participation if they so desire. The actual questionnaire administrations are conducted by the local Institute for Social Research representatives and their assistants, following standardized procedures detailed in a project instruction manual. The questionnaires are group administered in classrooms during a normal class period whenever possible; however, circumstances in some schools require the use of larger group administrations.

Follow-up Survey. The follow-up participants are invited to take part in a web-survey, which they are able to complete online. They receive a small monetary gift from the University of Michigan as a token of appreciation.