Monitoring the Future (MTF) Study
University of Michigan, supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
MTF is an ongoing study that uses annual surveys to track the behaviors, attitudes, and values of U.S. secondary school students, college students, and adults through age 60. Data collected include lifetime, annual, 30-day prevalence, and daily of use of many illegal drugs, inhalants, tobacco, and alcohol.
MTF surveys a sample of 12th, 10th, and 8th graders in public and private high schools in the contiguous United States. Follow-up questionnaires are mailed to a randomly selected sample from each graduating class for a number of years after their initial participation, to gather information on college students, young adults, and older adults.
The survey design is a multistage random sample, with stage 1 being the selection of particular geographic areas; stage 2 the selection of one or more high schools in each area; and stage 3 the selection of students within each school. Data are collected using self-administered questionnaires conducted in the classroom by representatives of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. Dropouts and students who are absent from school or class at the time of data collection are excluded. Recognizing that the dropout population is at higher risk for drug use, MTF was expanded in 1991 to include two nationally representative samples of 8th and 10th graders, who have lower dropout rates than 12th graders, and to include future high-risk 12th grade dropouts. Separate samples of schools and students are drawn at each grade level, and the survey procedures used for the 8th and 10th grade students closely parallel those used for the 12th grade students. For more information on MTF adjustments for absentees and dropouts, see Johnston et al (data years 2014 and earlier) and Miech RA et al (data years 2015 onward).
Sample Size and Response Rate
In 2020, in-school data collection was halted on March 15, 2020, as a result of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, resulting in a sample size about one-quarter the size of a typical data collection. Before 2020, about 45,000 students in about 400 public and private schools in the contiguous United States participated. In 2020, the 12th grade sample comprised 3,770 students in 36 public and private high schools nationwide. The 10th grade sample comprised 4,890 students in 38 schools, while the 8th grade sample comprised 3,161 students in 38 schools. Student response rates within schools in 2020 were 79% for the 12th grade, 89% for the 10th grade, and 88% for the 8th grade sample and have been relatively constant across time. Absentees constitute virtually all of the nonresponding students. Detailed analyses of the 2020 results indicate that the curtailed 2020 sample did not differ from the nationally representative sample results from previous years in terms of sociodemographics and prevalence of substance use that have had stable prevalence in recent years, (Miech RA, Leventhal A et al).
Issues Affecting Interpretation
Estimates of substance use among youth based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) are not directly comparable with estimates based on MTF. In addition to the fact that MTF excludes dropouts and absentees, rates are not directly comparable across these surveys because of differences in populations covered, sample design, questionnaires, interview setting, and data-cleaning procedures. NSDUH collects data in residences, whereas MTF collect data in school classrooms. In addition, NSDUH estimates are tabulated by age, whereas MTF estimates are tabulated by grade, representing different ages as well as different populations.
Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE, Miech RA. Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2014: Volume I, Secondary school students. 2015.
Miech RA, Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE, Patrick ME. Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use: 1975–2020. Volume I, Secondary school students. 2021. Available from: http://monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-vol1_2020.pdf.
Miech R, Leventhal A, Johnston L, O’Malley PM, Patrick ME, Barrington-Trimis J. Trends in use and perceptions of nicotine vaping among US youth from 2017 to 2020. JAMA Pediatr 175(2):185–90. 2021.
Cowan CD. Coverage, sample design, and weighting in three federal surveys. J Drug Issues 31(3):599–614. 2001.
For more information, see the NIDA website at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends and the MTF website at: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org.