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A Comparison of Federally Funded Sample Surveys on Postsecondary Education: Areas of Alignment and Variation

Issues of postsecondary education access and attainment have a direct impact on individuals' social and economic mobility, the labor market, and the nation's ability to stay globally competitive. Surveys on pre-college experiences and preparation, postsecondary enrollment and persistence, and workforce transitions are relevant across federal agencies, many of which rely on these data to inform policy and planning decisions. The National Postsecondary Education Cooperative - Sample Surveys (NPEC-S) commissioned this paper to provide a holistic view of the policy questions guiding existing federally-funded sample surveys on postsecondary activity, assess where their survey components align and vary, and determine whether they overlook some aspects and outcomes of the postsecondary education experience.

Meeting Today's Higher Education Goals via the National Center for Education Statistics' Postsecondary Sample Surveys

In an effort to improve the relevancy of NCES postsecondary survey data to current higher education data needs, this paper examines the ways in which the postsecondary landscape has changed since the inception of the first NCES longitudinal survey. This paper reviews the sociocultural and historical context surrounding the NCES postsecondary sample surveys, examines whether the current data collections address current needs and anticipate future needs, and provides recommendations including realignment of survey content with the current postsecondary landscape. This paper was commissioned by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative - Sample Surveys (NPEC-S).

Leveraging Administrative Data to Strengthen NCES Postsecondary Sample Surveys

Administrative data sources might further benefit the NCES postsecondary sample surveys program, the institutions and students it surveys, and the education researchers it supports. This paper explores how NCES can leverage linkages to federal and non-federal data sources to improve understanding of the price of college, students' post-college wage outcomes, the educational experiences of veterans or active duty military, the acquisition of industry-recognized certifications, and major life events. This paper was commissioned by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative - Sample Surveys (NPEC-S).

NPSAS:12 Computer-Aided Data Extraction Usability Interviews

This paper, commissioned by NPEC-Sample Surveys, summarizes a series of interviews related to the usability of web-based data collection systems developed for the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS). More than two dozen professionals at institutions across the country were interviewed by Westat, Inc., about their experience with NPSAS:12 computer-aided data extraction (CADE) processes in an effort to improve those processes for future administrations of NPSAS. Recommendations include providing participating institutions additional explanation in four areas: (1) scheduling, (2) data field definition, (3) how participation is determined, and (4) the value and/or importance of participation.

Studying Student Learning in Postsecondary Populations

This paper, commissioned by NPEC-Sample Surveys, considers issues important to any effort in which NCES chose to engage the higher education community in a deliberative process that explores the development of data on student learning through a nationally-representative sample survey that can generalize to undergraduate students enrolled in all institutional sectors. It briefly addresses what might be measured, what measurement instruments already exist, potential constructs for measurement, and issues related to study design. Finally, the paper outlines challenges associated with measuring student learning in the postsecondary context, as well as potential limitations associated with such a study.

Defining and Reporting Subbaccalaureate Certificates in IPEDS

Subbaccalaureate certificates, postsecondary awards conferred as the result of successful completion of a formal program of study below the baccalaureate level, have become more prominent in higher education over the last decade. Institutions of all sectors offer subbaccalaureate certificates, which can range in length from a few months to more than 2 years. Subbaccalaureate certificates provide individuals with a means for gaining specific skills and knowledge that can be readily transferred to the workforce. As part of its mission to promote the quality, comparability, and utility of postsecondary data, the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) convened a working group to examine subbaccalaureate certificates and how they are reported in the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Systems of Postsecondary Education Institutions Reported in the IPEDS Institutional Characteristics Component

This paper reviews the IPEDS “system” definition to determine if it accurately reflects the general understanding of a “system” in the higher education community. In addition, this paper examines systems that have been reported to IPEDS to determine if each fits the definition. Finally, the paper provides recommendations for improving data collection, including clarifications to instructions.

Student and Guidance Counselor Feedback on the College Navigator Website

College Navigator was developed by NCES and released in September 2007 as the U.S. Department of Education’s primary source for comparing postsecondary institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs. The site is designed to help students, parents, and high school guidance counselors search for and compare information on different postsecondary institutions as one of the first steps in the college search process. In 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act detailed several new data requirements to be included on College Navigator. Given the large amount of information now available on the site, NPEC is interested is providing suggestions and feedback to NCES on how it might improve the presentation of the data on the website to enhance its usability. This paper summarizes feedback received from students and high school guidance counselors through focus groups.

Suggestions for Improvements to the Student-to-Faculty Ratio in IPEDS

One of the many pieces of “consumer information” that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requires the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to post on its College Navigator website is a student-to-faculty ratio for institutions in the IPEDS universe with undergraduate programs. NCES added the collection of this measure to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Fall Enrollment component for the 2008-09 data collection year and revised the methodology for the 2009-10 data collection year. This paper explores the challenges related to collecting a meaningful student-to-faculty ratio while minimizing reporting burden imposed on institutions, and makes suggestions for improvement in future IPEDS data collections.

Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for Graduate and Doctor’s-Professional Practice Students

The student full-time equivalent (FTE) measure has a long history in U.S. postsecondary education. Credit hours, contact hours, and their derivative FTE have been used as proxies for both student and faculty effort. FTE ultimately became a core measure for planning, evaluating and assessing human resource allocation within higher education. Despite questions about the appropriateness of using a single standard to assess effort across diverse institutions, levels, and programs that have been raised since the inception of this measure, FTE is still informative and widely utilized. With this in mind, it is important for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to ensure its methodology for estimating FTE using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is sound. This paper first details the recent methodological changes for the graduate and professional student 12-month FTE calculation within IPEDS. It then reviews variations in practices for calculating graduate and professional student FTE across states. Finally, suggestions for improving the current calculation of graduate and doctor’s-professional practice student FTE in IPEDS are presented.

IPEDS Data for Graduate-Only Institutions

A small and diverse segment of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) universe includes colleges and universities that offer only degrees above the baccalaureate level. These graduate-only institutions are colleges or universities that offer programs in a variety of fields, including acupuncture, medicine, law, theology, business, and psychology. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) expressed interest in understanding better the data needs of graduate-only institutions and whether there should be changes made to the data collected by and reported for these institutions in IPEDS. This paper summarizes data collected from graduate-only institutions in IPEDS, identifies other organizations that collect data related to such institutions, and assesses whether changes should be made to the IPEDS data collection to meet the data needs of these institutions.

Calculating Placement Rates Under Gainful Employment Regulations

This paper was developed as the background paper for IPEDS Technical Review Panel #34, “Calculating Job Placement Rates.” The paper presents information on options available for developing a methodology that institutions would use to calculate job placement rates they are required to disclose under the new gainful employment regulations. In addition, the paper discusses whether in addition to disclosing the data, institutions should report job placement rates for gainful employment programs to IPEDS, and if so, how the collection of the data could be incorporated into the data collection.

Information Required to Be Disclosed Under the Higher Education Act of 1965: Suggestions for Dissemination – A Supplemental Report (NPEC 2012-831)

In 2009, the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) issued a report that provided suggestions on how postsecondary institutions could meet disclosure requirements under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended by the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008. This paper was commissioned by NPEC to determine if institutions were implementing the suggestions in its 2009 report. This paper identifies how institutions have implemented the NPEC’s 2009 report suggestions on presenting disclosure requirements. Additionally, this report identifies other resources and tools that could be used by institutions to present disclosure requirements in a consumer-friendly manner.

Suggestions for Improvements to the Collection and Dissemination of Federal Financial Aid Data (NPEC 2012-834)

Several offices within the U.S. Department of Education collect and disseminate data about student financial aid. However, limitations of these data sources may make it difficult for consumers, policymakers, and researchers to gain a complete picture of the sources, types, and amounts of aid going to students at institutions of higher education and the relationship between aid and policy goals such as access and success. This report presents the findings and recommendations of the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) Working Group on Financial Aid Data, which sought to identify potential improvements to the collection and dissemination of federal financial aid data.

The History and Origins of Survey Items for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (NPEC 2012-833)

This project was conducted to determine the origin of items in the 2011-12 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey components. The report was developed to document the sources of current IPEDS data items as background information for interested parties and to provide guidance when NCES, technical review panels, and others are considering potential changes to the IPEDS data collection.

Suggestions for Improving the IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey Data Collection and Reporting (NPEC 2010832)

In 1990, Congress enacted the Student Right-to-Know (SRTK) Act which requires colleges and universities to disclose the rate students complete academic programs at postsecondary education institutions. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) at the U.S. Department of Education developed the Graduation Rate Survey (GRS) to help institutions comply with the SRTK requirements. The purpose of this paper is to present recommendations for reducing complexity and confusion of completing the GRS survey as well as improve the standardization of data. The paper summarizes findings from two activities: deliberations of the NPEC GRS Working Group (with feedback from the full NPEC membership) and an analysis of graduation rate survey perceptions using entries in the Common Dataset listserve.

Information Required to Be Disclosed Under the Higher Education Act of 1965: Suggestions for Dissemination (NPEC 2010831REV)

This report is the output of a National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) Working Group on the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA).The purpose of the document is to help colleges and universities successfully identify and meet their obligation to disclose information as required under the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended by the HEOA. It includes suggestions to help institutions make the HEA-required disclosure information more accessible and understandable to consumers and more comparable across institutions. A summary of HEA institutional disclosure requirements and a list of HEA-required disclosures by the required methods of dissemination are also included.

Benchmarks that Define Successful Postsecondary Preparation

This report presents an inventory of potential postsecondary academic preparation benchmarks based on research and feedback from practitioners. The findings suggest that there is a strong relationship between the curriculum taken in high school and postsecondary success.  However, the author states that the traditionally perceived college-preparatory core curriculum does not necessarily guarantee postsecondary success.  New research indicates that the most effective preparation is a curriculum that exceeds the traditional core curriculum across most subject areas. In light of these findings, the report identifies benchmarks for both minimum and advanced preparation.  While academic preparation is the focus of the report, the author also recognizes that other areas including financial literacy and social-cultural awareness affect preparation for college. For a copy of the report please contact Nancy Borkow.

Deciding on Postsecondary Education (NCES 2008-850)

This report examines the data and the information that potential students, (particularly non-traditional aged, minority, and students of low- and moderate- socioeconomic status), use and need in making decisions about postsecondary education. Qualitative data were gathered and analyzed from focus groups and secondary data were collected through research literature. The findings state that more comprehensible information, additional resources, and improved assistance for prospective college students and their families are needed.

Information Center for State Level Indicators

NPEC has provided support to the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) for the development of a web-based tool that presents state, and, in some instances, county postsecondary education indicators. The information is downloadable and easy-to-use. Analysts, policy-makers, and others interested in state-level postsecondary education data analysis will find this tool available on the web, free-of-charge at

National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success

In November 2006, NPEC hosted a 3-day national symposium on postsecondary student success in Washington, DC. The purpose of the symposium was to discuss what constitutes success and what factors impact the chances of success for different types of students in different types of postsecondary institutions. NPEC also commissioned papers for the symposium by top researchers in the field of student success, as well as respondent papers from federal, state, and institutional postsecondary decision makers.

State Postsecondary Education Consumer Website Pilot Project

Through this pilot project, NPEC supported three states (Florida, Kentucky, and Minnesota) in providing better and more easily accessible information for prospective students and their families, particularly for adults and other underserved populations. Project outcomes include a new or upgraded user-friendly website for each state. The audiences for this project are students, parents, high school counselors, educators, institutions, other states, and other professionals interested in advancing the information provided to postsecondary education consumers. A Lessons Learned report will be available early in 2009. You can visit the new state web sites at: