When looking at these data it is important to understand who, specifically, they apply to. Undergraduate students are the focus of this Closer Look. However, the indicators on expenses per student and on two-year cohort default rates apply to all postsecondary students. In addition, some indicators, such as the percentage distribution in degree-granting institutions, separate students into full-time and part-time subgroups. Other indicators, such as postsecondary graduation rates and the average total price of attendance, pertain only to full-time (as defined by the institution), full-year (attending at least 9 months out of the year) students who attended only one institution during the year. (The indicator that discusses average total price, grants, and net price is further limited to dependent students.)
Postsecondary education is a term that encompasses a wide range of academic options for students beyond high school, ranging from certificates to advanced degrees. The term postsecondary institution is the category used to refer to institutions with formal instructional programs and a curriculum designed primarily for students who have completed the requirements for a high school diploma or its equivalent. Institutions are characterized by type of financial control—public, private not-for-profit, and private for-profit, as well as by level—4-year-and-above (4-year), 2-year but less-than-4-year (2-year), and less-than-2-year. For more information on the classification of postsecondary institutions, see supplemental note 8.
The postsecondary data used in this Closer Look are from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), and the Federal Student Aid Direct Loan and Federal Family Education Loan Programs Cohort Default Rate database. IPEDS data are collected at the institution level and participation in the data collection is a requirement for institutions that participate in Title IV federal student financial aid programs, such as Pell grants or Stafford loans. NPSAS data are based on a representative sample of all students in postsecondary education institutions that are eligible to participate in the federal financial aid programs under Title IV. The Federal Student Aid Cohort Default Rate database encompasses all borrowers with Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs) or William D. Ford Federal Direct loans. FFELs include subsidized or unsubsidized Federal Stafford loans and Federal Supplemental Loans for Students (Federal SLS loans). For more information on IPEDS, NPSAS, or Federal Student Aid, see supplemental note 3.