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The Guidelines define School as follows:

A building or building complex used as a learning center for children grades kindergarten through high school, excluding daycares and schools that are only kindergarten and younger.

INCLUDES: Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and private K‐12 schools

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Preschools, kindergartens, daycares, headstart programs

What is a school? 

The guidelines are quite clear that a school is a building where children are taught in any grade from 1 through 12. The important thing to remember is that daycares, pre-schools, headstart programs, and kindergarten-only schools are not included.

Schools are a challenging structure type because there are so many of them! Every year new ones are opening, and old ones are closing.

Where can I find authoritative lists of schools?

On this website, look in the Data Sources page for your State to see if volunteers have listed authoritative data sources for schools. 

There are three types of schools: public, charter, and private. Public schools and charter schools are regulated by State Departments of Education, and for this reason there usually are good authoritative lists of these schools on the State Department of Education websites. States are divided up into School Districts, many of which have web pages which are the most authoritative place to look for information.

Private schools are more difficult to sort out because there are no authoritative lists, and they tend to open and close more often than public schools. Here are some non-authoritative places you can look for private school information:
  • State Department of Education websites: these may have lists of  private schools, but in general they are non-authoritative because they may only include non-public schools whose school administrators have requested to be on the list.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics maintains a database of private schools. This database is a result of a voluntary survey that they send out every two years. Their website allows a search for private schools by city, county, or state.
  • The Great Schools website has an online searchable database.
  • The National Association of Independent Schools has an online searchable database.
  • The National Parochial Schools Association lists parochial schools by State.
  • Look on the Data Sources page on this website for your State to see if there are any regional or local sources of private school information

Why does the Structures database contain so many schools that no longer exist?

One original source of information for the Structures database was US Geological Survey topographic maps which were produced from about 1879 to 1992. These maps showed many of the old pioneer schools that were established as a result of the Land Ordinance of 1785. This Act of Congress caused much of the 30 western States to be surveyed and divided into townships six-miles square; in turn each township was divided into 36 numbered square-mile sections, and section No. 16 of each township was to be reserved for a schoolhouse. And many of the resulting one-room schoolhouses still existed and were mapped when the older USGS topo maps were produced.

For volunteers who are history buffs, it can be quite enjoyable to zoom in on these old school locations in the Potlatch editor, and switching over to the Aerial Imagery view, see if any sign is left of these old schools. Sometimes there is a building, sometimes a foundation, and sometimes nothing but a wheat field. A few are still even in use as schools! Those that are no longer in existence or being used as schools should be deleted from the database.

How do I handle schools with many grades?

Many schools, especially rural schools, have K-12 classes 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 at the school website, or, if there is no school website, then at the State Department of Education website. If these websites list separate schools at the same address, then add one structure for each school, which each structure symbol contained within the footprint of the building.


The 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.

INCLUDES: 4‐year universities, community colleges, and technical colleges

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Trades schools such as cosmetology schools


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.

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