Attending college is a big investment in terms of time and financial resources, but completing college provides a payoff. Measuring student success (i.e., college completion) can serve critical purposes for the higher education community. Students and their families may search for college choices that demonstrate high student success rates, and policymakers may make decisions informed by institutional performance on such measures.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is an important data source to understand institution-level college completion rates. IPEDS collects student success measures through three primary survey components: Graduation Rates (GR), Graduation Rates 200% (GR200), and Outcome Measures (OM).
IPEDS introduced the GR survey component in 1997–98 to meet the requirements of the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-542), which requires colleges to report the completion rates of their full-time, first-time (FTFT) degree/certificate-seeking (DGCS) undergraduates. GR collects students’ completion statuses at 100%1 and 150% of normal time to program completion. The GR200 survey component, which was fully implemented in its current form in 2009–10,2 tracks the same cohort of students as GR but extends the observed outcome timeline to 200% of time to normal program completion.
A key data limitation of the GR and GR200 student success measures is their limited scope of the student population—that is, their use of only FTFT students, who are often referred to as “traditional” students. In response to this limitation, the Department of Education established the Committee on Measures of Student Success to develop recommendations to capture a “full picture” of postsecondary student success, taking into account the mission and role of 2-year institutions, which serve an increasing number of “post-traditional” students. Based on the recommendations of the Committee, discussions from a Technical Review Panel, and public comments, IPEDS introduced the OM survey component in 2015–16 and expanded it in 2017–18 to its current form.
Unlike the GR and GR200 survey components, the OM survey component collects completion outcomes for all entering DGCS undergraduates, including non-first-time students (i.e., transfer-in students) and part-time students, which are two key student populations, particularly within community colleges and other less-than-4-year institutions.
While GR, GR200, and OM survey components establish entering cohorts of DGCS undergraduates and track their completion outcomes at various points in time, there are key differences among them.
First, the universe of postsecondary institutions that complete each survey component is different. Institutions with FTFT cohorts complete the GR and GR200 components, whereas degree-granting institutions complete the OM component. In 2020–21, there were 5,624 institutions that enrolled FTFT cohorts and 4,029 institutions with degree-granting status (exhibit 1). While degree-granting institutions largely overlap with institutions with FTFT cohorts (3,646 institutions), there were 1,978 additional institutions that had FTFT cohorts but were non-degree-granting.
Second, OM captures substantially more DGCS undergraduates, as this component does not limit its cohorts to only FTFT students. Based on the most recently published data (collected in 2020–21), the OM survey component reported 8-year outcomes for approximately 8 million DGCS undergraduates who entered their postsecondary institutions in 2012–13 (exhibit 2). In contrast, the GR survey component captured approximately 1.7 million FTFT undergraduates who began at 4-year institutions in fall 2012 (academic reporters) or 2012–13 (program reporters) and approximately 884,000 students who began at 2-year institutions during the same time period.
The OM survey component differs in many other important ways from the GR and GR200 survey components. Exhibit 3 provides a guide to these key differences.
|Frequently Asked Question||GR||GR200||OM|
|Which institutions complete the survey component?||All institutions that enroll a FTFT degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate cohort||All institutions that enroll a FTFT degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate cohort||All degree-granting institutions|
|Does the survey form vary by institutional type?||Yes. Survey forms vary by institutional level1 and reporter type.2||Yes. Survey forms vary by institutional level and reporter type.||No. All degree-granting institutions complete the same survey form.|
|What student success measures are included?||
100% of normal time:3
200% of normal time:
4 years after entry:
|Which students are included in the cohort?||Full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates||Full-time, first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates||All degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates|
|What is the timeframe for establishing student cohorts?10||
Fall cohort for academic reporters:
Fall term (Fall 2014 cohort for 4-year institutions and Fall 2017 cohorts for 2-year and less-than-2-year institutions)
Full-year cohort for program reporters:
12-month period (September 1, 2014, to August 31, 2015, cohort for 4-year institutions and September 1, 2017, to August 31, 2018, cohorts for 2-year and less-than-2-year institutions)
Fall cohort for academic reporters:
Fall term (Fall 2012 cohort for 4-year institutions and Fall 2016 cohorts for less-than-4-year institutions)
Either fall cohort or full-year cohort for program reporters:
Fall term (Fall 2016) or 12-month period (September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2017)
Full-year cohort for all degree-granting institutions:
12-month period (July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013)
|Which subgroups (disaggregates) are included?||
100% of normal time:11
150% of normal time:
200% of normal time:
Total completers count (i.e., no subgroups)
4, 6, and 8 years after entry:
Pell Grant Recipient Status x First-Time/Non-First-Time Status x Full-Time/Part-Time Status
|What is the timing of data collection and release?16||
100% and 150% of normal time (2-year and less-than-2-year academic and program reporters):
Both rates are reported together at the same time 3 years after entry. The most recent cohorts available are Fall 2017 for academic reporters and September 1, 2017, to August 31, 2018, for program reporters.
150% of normal time (4-year academic reporters and program reporters):
This rate is reported 6 years after entry. The most recent cohorts available are Fall 2014 for academic reporters and September 1, 2014, to August 31, 2015, for program reporters.
200% of normal time to completion (less than-4-year academic and program reporters):
This rate is reported 4 years after entry. The most recent cohorts available are Fall 2016 for academic reporters and September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2017, for program reporters.
200% of normal time to completion (4-year institutions):
This rate is reported 8 years after entry. The most recent cohort available is Fall 2012.
4-, 6-, and 8-year completion:
All rates are reported together at the same time 8 years after entry. The most recent cohort available is July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.
As displayed in exhibit 3, the OM survey component provides a more comprehensive view of student success than the GR and GR200 survey components. The OM survey component collects academic outcome data for all DGCS undergraduates. As shown in exhibit 4, students who enter an institution between the 12-month period from July 1 to June 30 become the OM cohort and are further separated into one of eight subcohorts based on their Pell Grant recipient status, first-time or non-first-time status, and full-time or part-time status.3
The OM survey component captures students’ highest credential earned (i.e., certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s) at 4,4 6, and 8 years after entry. Additionally, for students who did not earn a credential by the 8-year status point, the survey collects an enrollment status outcome (i.e., still enrolled at the institution, enrolled at another institution, or enrollment status unknown).
Exhibit 4 presents the current 2021–22 data collection timeline, including the cohort year, outcome status points, data collection period, and public release of OM data.
The IPEDS OM survey component represents a big step forward in understanding student success outcomes from the degree-granting universe of U.S. postsecondary institutions for key student populations, such as part-time and transfer-in students and Pell Grant recipients. Data from the OM survey component reflect the changing demographics of many colleges and universities. For more information about the OM survey component, please visit the OM survey component page.