Confluence Retirement

Due to the feedback from stakeholders and our commitment to not adversely impact USGS science activities that Confluence supports, we are extending the migration deadline to January 2023.

In an effort to consolidate USGS hosted Wikis, myUSGS’ Confluence service is targeted for retirement. The official USGS Wiki and collaboration space is now SharePoint. Please migrate existing spaces and content to the SharePoint platform and remove it from Confluence at your earliest convenience. If you need any additional information or have any concerns about this change, please contact Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
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titleThe Guidelines define School as follows:

A building or building complex used as a learning center for children grades kindergarten through high school.

INCLUDES: Public, private, alternative, and juvenile hall schools. School types include elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and private K‐12 schools.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: preschools, stand-alone kindergartens (i.e., no classes higher than kindergarten), daycares, or headstart programs.

What is a school? 

A school is a building where children are taught in any grade from K through 12.

What types of schools should I collect?

Schools are typically divided into three separate categories based on grade levels offered: Elementary, Middle, and High school. We also include a fourth category (i.e., General School) for those schools whose grade levels do not fall into one of these categories. This is most often the case for schools that combine two or more categories into one organization, such as K-12 schools.   

It is important to note that there is no ultimate black-and-white definition for what category a school falls in. Each school district structures their schools in a unique way, and this structure is the ultimate deciding factor of what category a school falls into.

Here are some general guidelines for what each school category entails:

  • Elementary School: A school for the beginning years of a child's education, often including kindergarten. Does not include combined elementary and middle schools (e.g., K-8 schools), K-12 schools, or any schools where kindergarten is the highest (or only) level offered. Schools covering grades K-8 or grades K-12 should be categorized as a General School. Schools offering PreK-K or K-only are considered preschools and should be deleted.

  • Middle School: A school between elementary school and high school; levels generally include grades 6th through 8th. However, grades 5th through 8th or 6th through 9th may occur in some states.  Does not include schools extending beyond the 8th grade or schools serving 5th grade and below (e.g., PreK-5, K-5, K-12, or 6-12). Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.

  • High School: A secondary school attended after middle school that usually goes through grade 12. A high school diploma is offered upon graduation from this type of school. Does not include schools that include 8th grade or lower (e.g., K-7), or schools that include grades in addition to the traditional high school grades (e.g., K-12 or 6-12).  Schools covering K-12 or 6-12 should be categorized as a General School.

  • General School: A building or building complex that offers education for children in grades kindergarten through high school. Includes schools that do not fall into a specific category, such as K-8, K-12, or 6-12 schools.

EXAMPLE: If a school does not self-identify, the table below provides a few scenarios that you might encounter:

School District A


Elementary School


Middle School


High School

School District B


General School


High School

School District C


Elementary School


General School

Check out our Structures List or this Decision Tree for more on what category a school falls under.

Where do I place a school structure point?
Most schools typically have one building and the point should be placed at the center of the building. If a school has multiple buildings as part of the same complex, place the point at the center of the complex.

Many schools, especially rural schools, have multiple institutions all in one building. Should these be depicted as one school, or multiple schools (elementary school, middle school, high school)? This generally is decided based on information from the school website or the state department of education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one point for each school, with each point placed within the footprint of the building. Our March 2019 Newsletter contains an article titled Rare Find: 4 High Schools in One! that walks users through this very scenario.

For more information on how to identify a school building, check out the“Aerial Photo Interpretation Part 9: Schools”article in our March 2019 Newsletter.

Where can I find authoritative lists of schools?

The best place to find information about a school is on a dedicated school and/or district website. These websites are the first to reflect any changes in pertinent information (e.g., name, address, etc.) and therefore are typically the most accurate. If a dedicated school and/or district website cannot be found (as may be the case for smaller, rural, and/or private schools), there are many secondary sources that compile information from authoritative sources into an aggregate list. Examples of secondary sources include:

  • State department of education websites: These typically include all of the licensed public schools in the state. They may also include private schools, but in general they should not be considered a comprehensive list of private schools because they may only include schools whose school administrators have requested to be on the list.

  • TheNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) maintains a database of public and private schools. This database is a result of a voluntary survey results for the Department of Education. Public schools are surveyed every year. Private schools are surveyed every 2 years. The NCES website allows a search for private or public schools by city, county, or state.

  • The National Association of Independent Schools has an online searchable database.

  • The National Parochial Schools Association lists parochial schools by state.

Insiders Tip: Many schools have websites or official Facebook pages that include a news section or event calendar. Before assuming all the information is valid, check to see if recent posts have been made to the page’s news or events section. There are scenarios where a school may have recently closed but its website is still online.  Checking the news or events sections for recent updates helps to verify if the school is still in operation.

For example, M J Jones Elementary School in Richmond, VA has a calendar page on its website. The calendar shows current events at the school, thereby indicating that the school is still in operation.  

Check out our Authoritative Sources List for more on the types of sources that are acceptable.

titleCollege and University

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titleThe Guidelines define College and University as follows:

A building or building complex used as an institution of higher learning that grants a degree at the completion of a course of studies.

  • INDICATORS: offers associates degrees or higher.

INCLUDES: 4‐year universities and community colleges, junior colleges requiring a high school diploma or equivalent for admission.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Technical / trade schools offering technical training for job-specific certifications.


What is a College/University? 

The Guidelines definition of College/University is quite specific, and the key factor is that an institution must grant a degree; there are 4 types of degrees: Associate, Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral. 

Degree-granting generally is regulated by the States, and so each State has a Higher Education Agency which oversees degree-granting institutions. The US Department of Education has a list of these State Higher Education Agencies. These agencies often maintain lists of the degree-granting institutions in their State (refer to the Data Sources pages on this website for each State to find out where to find these lists).

For the most part, this degree-granting requirement leaves out vocational schools (also called trade schools, career schools, or technical schools), which generally grant certificates but not degrees. An exception is technical colleges which do grant degrees.

A separate issue is accreditation. There are many accreditation organizations which generally are private professional organizations. Each State Higher Education Agency may determine which accreditation organizations have recognized authority within that State. Usually an institution may not grant a degree unless it has been accredited; however there are exceptions to this rule – some States allow religious colleges to grant degrees even if they are not accredited. Conversely, there may be schools that are accredited but do not give out degrees (only certificates).

A second, less obvious stipulation in the definition of College/University, is that there be a building used as an institution of higher learning. This leaves out online universities, unless they teach classes in their buildings as well as online.

Where do I place a College/University structure point?

In general, each college/university campus should be represented by a single structure point placed on the administrative building for that college/university. If one does not have firsthand knowledge of the location of the administration building, it can usually be gleaned from a brief examination of the school's web page. If it cannot be determined where the administration building is located, then place the structure point on a building at the center of the main cluster of buildings on the campus.

A University campus may contain several colleges or schools (ie College of Arts, College of Sciences, School of Business, School of Medicine), but so long as these are units of the same University and located on the same campus, then they should be represented by a single point. However in some cases, separate institutions may share the same campus (for example, the Auraria campus in Denver, Colorado is home to Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the Community College of Denver) – in this case each separate institution should be represented by a point. 

Some Colleges, especially in an urban environment, may have multiple campuses or widely dispersed buildings. This is somewhat of a grey area, but in general a separate campus should be represented by its own structure point. However, if a dispersed college location consists of a single building, or a few rooms in a single building, then you will have to use your own judgment as to whether it is important enough to be considered a campus and therefore justify a new structure point. 

Medical Schools that are co-located with Hospitals should be represented by a college/university structure point only if the medical school is large enough to have at least one building separate from the Hospital; if so, the associated Hospital would also be represented as a Hospital structure type.