Tiger Line Shapefiles

By Dale Amburgey, Assistant Director, Institutional Research, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The U.S. Census website contains a wealth of information and numerous resources for the institutional researcher. One of the most useful is Shapefiles found within the TIGER/Line files, which can visually display your data in SPSS. In this example, we display Florida enrollment data by county in SPSS.

In order to select a map to import into SPSS, first go the U.S. Census website. When you hover over the Geography menu item, a listing of options will appear. Select “TIGER.” TIGER stands for Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing.


When you click on “TIGER,” you will be directed to the following menu. Select “TIGER/Line Shapefiles”

After you have selected “TIGER/Line Shapefiles,” the following screen appears. Select the file year to download. 

After you have selected the file year, choose the download link and then either the “Web Interface” or “FTP Site” option. In this example, select the "Web Interface" option. 

Using the “Web Interface” option, you will be able to select a layer type. Since we are using enrollment by county in this example, select the “County Subdivisions” layer type. 

Next, you are presented with options to select a state for the County Subdivision layer. Since we want to represent enrollment by counties in Florida, select Florida as the state. 

Now, click the download button to begin file extraction. You will be downloading a .zip file, with the most critical file having the .shp extension (not to be confused with the .shp.xml file). Extract the files to a file location that will be easy for you to access and remember. 

Next, open SPSS and select the “Map Conversion Utility” from the Utilities menu to begin the process of importing the Shapefile map. 

After selecting the “Map Conversion Utility,” you will be directed to select the location of the Shapefile extract and to select a destination for the converted map file. Note the converted map file name, as this will be the name of the map to be selected when the analysis is complete. The map has been named “Florida by County.”

After selecting the file for conversion and the destination for the converted map file, click “Next” to begin the next step of the conversion process. Because you are using county subdivisions for a state in this example, select “COUSUBFP” as the primary key.

After clicking “Next,” you have the option of editing the map.

Clicking “Next” again provides a finished map that is ready for use.

Now, you can open up the Florida enrollment data file in SPSS. It is imperative that the FIPS county code be included in the data set.

Select “Graphboard Template Chooser” from the Graphs menu.

On the Basic tab, select “FIPS County” on the left (since that is the data element we are visualizing). Next, select “Choropleth of Counts.”

On the Detailed tab, ensure that “Choropleth of Sums” is selected as the visualization type. The Data Key is represented by the FIPS county code and the color is based on enrollment. Under “Map Files,” select the “Florida by County” map that was just created.

 By clicking “OK,” you now have a visual representation of enrollment data by county for the state of Florida. 



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Total Comments: 13
Steve posted on 6/19/2014 12:41 PM
Thanks for the useful tip. I'm sure the Census Bureau has a lot of great information that could be used for enrollment management purposes.
JR posted on 6/19/2014 1:14 PM
This is very interesting and helpful, could use this to generate a comparison visual against the county enrollment graph I already create of where our students arrive from within the state. I did especially like the helpful reminder to "Extract the files to a file location that will be easy for you to access and remember.".... cannot count the number of times I have had to re-download files having no clue where the original extracted files were saved!
Kendra posted on 6/19/2014 1:17 PM
This is extremely useful! Our office had purchased another application for this exact use. Thank you for the tip!
Lee posted on 6/19/2014 1:34 PM
Thanks Dale! Very interesting - I can see a number of possible applications in our IR office.
Lisa posted on 6/19/2014 3:01 PM
All, I would love to be able to use this tip but I don't see Map Conversion under the Utilities menu in SPSS 19. Dale's tip does not mention which version of SPSS he uses. Can someone point me in the right direction?
Dale posted on 6/19/2014 3:22 PM
Lisa, I'm using SPSS 21.
Claire posted on 6/20/2014 9:13 AM
Thanks for this tip, this will be a great way to map out various types of data. I'm looking forward to trying this out. The directions look very easy to follow.
Terry posted on 6/20/2014 10:04 AM
Very cool! One could spend a lot of time on the Census bureau web site and still find great things to do with data. It is great when I can pull data and manipulate it locally. I will definitely try this.
Julia posted on 6/20/2014 10:52 AM
One of the sessions that I attended at AIR offered an idea that we are thinking of incorporating at our school, Friday Factoids, and this would be a great tool to use to visualize some of that data. Thanks for sharing!
Kathy posted on 6/20/2014 1:59 PM
I have been looking for something to do just this very thing without having to pay for additional software! Thanks for the tip.
Meg posted on 6/27/2014 4:27 PM
Marlene posted on 7/7/2014 10:48 AM
This is terrific! We were trying to figure this out in our office awhile back and got stuck. Great to have these very detailed instructions. Look forward to trying to work with this tool again soon.
Iroshan posted on 12/11/2014 2:57 PM
Dale, how did you manage to remove the subdivisions within respective counties?