The 2003–04 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:2004) is the latest in a series of comprehensive studies of all students enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States and Puerto Rico. The study is conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to determine how students and their families pay for postsecondary education. It also provides data for comprehensive descriptions of the undergraduate and graduate/first-professional student populations in terms of their demographic characteristics, academic programs, types of institutions attended, attendance patterns, employment, and participation in civic and volunteer activities. The first NPSAS was conducted in 1986–87 (NPSAS:87), and since then, five additional studies have been conducted (NPSAS:90, NPSAS:93, NPSAS:96, NPSAS:2000, and NPSAS:2004).1
The NPSAS:04 target population consists of all eligible students enrolled at any time between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2004 in postsecondary institutions in the United States or Puerto Rico that had signed Title IV participation agreements with the U.S. Department of Education making them eligible for federal student aid programs (Title IV institutions). To be eligible for NPSAS, students had to be enrolled in either an academic program with at least one course for credit that could be applied toward fulfilling the requirements for an academic degree or enrolled in an occupational or vocational program that requires at least 3 months or 300 clock hours of instruction to receive a degree, certificate, or other formal award. Eligible students could not be concurrently enrolled in high school or in other high school completion program.
In NPSAS:04, a two-stage sampling design was used: the first stage involved selecting eligible institutions, and the second stage involved selecting eligible respondents within each eligible institution. The institutional sampling frame for NPSAS:2004 was constructed from the 2000–01 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Institutional Characteristics (IC) file. The institutions in the sampling frame were partitioned into 58 institutional strata based on institutional control, highest level of offering, and Carnegie classification. Initially, a total of 1,670 institutions were selected for NPSAS:2004, and all but 40 of these institutions were found to be NPSAS eligible institutions and 1,360 of these eligible institutions provided student enrollment lists for use as the second stage (i.e., student) sampling frame. Sampling frames for selecting students consisted of enrollment lists or data files provided by the institutions for those students enrolled during the NPSAS:2004 year. The sampling procedures resulted in the selection of 109,200 students (including undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional students), of which a total of 101,000 students were found to be eligible. Upon the completion of data collection, 90 percent of the 101,000 sample members were determined to have sufficient key data to be included in NPSAS:2004. This report is based on a nationally representative sample of all undergraduates in postsecondary education institutions. The information about undergraduate students in NPSAS:2004 was obtained from a sample of about 80,000 undergraduates who were enrolled at any time between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2004, in about 1,300 postsecondary institutions that offered undergraduate programs of study. Information for NPSAS:04 was obtained from several sources, including (1) student records from institutional financial aid and registrar records at the institutions currently attended (these data were entered at the institution by institutional personnel or field data collectors in 2004 using a computer-assisted data entry program or directly downloaded from a data file; (2) student interview collected directly from sampled students via web-based self-administered or interviewer-administered questionnaires; (3) Central Processing System (CPS) which is the U.S. Department of Education database of federal financial aid applications for the 2003–04 academic year; (4) National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) which is the U.S. Department of Education database of federal Title IV loans and Federal Pell Grant; and (5) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) which is the NCES database of descriptive information about individual postsecondary institutions. The weighted institutional response rate was 80 percent, and the weighted student response rate was 91 percent, resulting in an overall response rate of 72 percent. The NPSAS:2004 sample of undergraduates represents about 19 million undergraduates who were enrolled at any time between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2004 in postsecondary institutions in the United States or Title IV institutions in Puerto Rico.