The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey is administered every spring to approximately 50,000 total students randomly selected in grades 8, 10, and 12. Surveys are administered annually at approximately 420 public and private middle schools and high schools that are representative of the U.S. student population at each of the three grade levels. As many as 350 students from each school can be selected to fill out survey questionnaires, whenever possible, in a classroom and during a regular class period. At schools with fewer than that number of students, all students are invited to participate. In schools with more than 350 students, a subsample is selected. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and administered by the Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The MTF survey was first administered in 1975 to 12th graders, when it was known as the National High School Senior Survey. Since 1991, the survey has included respondents in the 8th and 10th grades. A random sample of each graduating class is determined, and every two years a questionnaire is mailed to the home address of each student selected, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for return of the survey and nominal monetary compensation for its completion.
Survey and follow-up questionnaire respondents are asked about legal and illicit drugs, crime, social and ethical views, environmental issues, the changing roles of women in society, and social institutions. The same set of questions is asked of each cohort over a period of years, when enables researchers to compare the answers to individual questions and determine if, and how, the behaviors and attitudes of young people in the United States are changing.
According to the Survey Research Center, the study’s design allows researchers to examine four kinds of changes: (1) changes connected to environment (e.g., middle school, high school, college, workplace) or transitions in life (e.g., moving out of the parent’s home, marriage, parenthood); (2) period effects, or changes across all the age groups surveyed during a particular year; (3) age effects, or developmental changes that show up consistently in survey panel after survey panel; and (4) cohort effects, or consistent differences observed between class cohorts over time. Government officials, policymakers, health officials, and researchers use the results and general trends of the MTF survey to monitor the behaviors and attitudes of adolescents and young adults throughout the United States.
- National Institute of Health, National Institute of Drug Abuse. (2012). Monitoring the Future survey. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/monitoring-future
- Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. (2010). Monitoring the future. Retrieved from http://monitoringthefuture.org/