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Education Statistics Quarterly
Vol 4, Issue 3, Topic: Methodology
Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study: 1996-2001 (BPS:1996/2001) Methodology Report
By: Jennifer S. Wine, Ruth E. Heuer, Sara C. Wheeless, Talbric L. Francis, Jeff W. Franklin, and Kristin M. Dudley
This article was originally published as the Executive Summary of the Technical Report of the same name. The sample survey data are from the NCES Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS).


The 1996 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:96), sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. Department of Education, follows a cohort of students who started their postsecondary education during the 1995–96 academic year. These students were first interviewed during 1996 as part of the 1995–96 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:96). In 1998, 2 academic years after the cohort's entry into postsecondary education, the first follow-up interview (BPS:96/98) was conducted. BPS:1996/2001 is the second and final follow-up interview with the BPS:96 cohort. This interview, which took place in 2001, focused on persistence and attainment among students enrolled in 4-year institutions and employment among students no longer enrolled. This report describes the procedures and results of the full-scale implementation of BPS:1996/2001.

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Sample Design

The respondent universe for the BPS:96/98 and BPS:1996/2001 interviews consisted of all students who began their postsecondary education for the first time during the 1995–96 academic year at any postsecondary institution in the United States or Puerto Rico. The students sampled were first-time beginning postsecondary students who attended postsecondary institutions eligible for inclusion in NPSAS:96 and who were themselves eligible for NPSAS:96.

All BPS:1996/2001 sample members had completed either the NPSAS:96 interview, the BPS:96/98 interview, or both interviews. At the beginning of BPS:96/98, over 12,400 students had been identified as potentially both eligible for NPSAS:96 and first-time beginners (i.e., eligible for the BPS interviews). Of those students, about 10,350 were located and completed a BPS:96/98 interview, with almost 10,300 of them determined to be both NPSAS and BPS eligible. The majority of the BPS:1996/2001 sample consisted of these BPS:96/98 respondents. However, the BPS:96/98 respondents were supplemented by a subsample of about 100 BPS:96/98 nonrespondents. The BPS:1996/2001 sample was representative of the students who first began post-secondary education in 1995–96.

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All sample members were eligible for participation in BPS:1996/2001, having had their eligibility determined as part of either the NPSAS:96 or the BPS:96/98 interview. Consequently, the BPS:1996/2001 interview focused exclusively on activities since the last interview. The first section of the instrument collected information on postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment. A second section collected information on undergraduate education experiences. A third section, on postbaccalaureate education experiences, was included for those sample members who had completed a bachelor's degree since the last interview. A fourth section collected extensive employment information for the current job if no degree had been earned since the last interview. For those who had earned a degree, employment information was collected for the current job and for the first job held after degree completion, if different. The final section updated the sample members' family, financial, and disability status and their civic participation since the last interview.

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Data Collection Design and Outcomes

Interviews were conducted using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Cases for sample members for whom no locating information was available were sent directly to a specialized tracing unit for intensive tracing. The tracing unit was also used for intensive tracing once all contact information for sample members was exhausted during attempts to conduct the telephone interview.

In addition to telephone interviewing and intensive tracing, field locating and interviewing were available for certain cases that fell into any one of 30 geographic clusters developed according to the Zip Code of the last known address for the sample member. Potential field cases were those in which CATI and intensive tracing failed to locate sample members or in which sample members initially refused to participate in the interview. Computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) software was available on laptop computers for field interviewing.


Training programs on successful locating and interviewing were developed for telephone and field staff. Topics covered administrative procedures required for case management; quality control; locating; interactions with sample members, parents, and other contacts; the nature of the data to be collected; and the organization and operation of the CATI and CAPI programs used for data collection. Tracing specialists received an abbreviated training specific to the needs of BPS:1996/2001.


CATI locating and interviewing began at the end of February 2001. Contact information for the BPS:96/98 respondents was loaded into CATI initially, followed by contact information for the BPS:96/98 nonrespondents several weeks after the start of CATI. Field interviewing began about 12 weeks following the start of telephone interviewing.

Of the original starting sample, 21 sample members were found to be deceased since the last interview. The unweighted contact rate among the remaining BPS:1996/2001 sample members was 92 percent. Of those contacted, 96 percent were interviewed, for an overall unweighted response rate of 88 percent.

Refusal conversion

Important to successful interviewing was the ability of the interviewers to gain the cooperation of sample members, thereby avoiding a refusal. The telephone interviewers included refusal conversion specialists with special training in attempting to convert (interview) sample members who have refused to complete the interview. From the point when a sample member refused, the case was handled only by these conversion specialists. In BPS:1996/2001, 1,860 sample members refused at least once to participate in the interview. Of those, 74 percent were converted and interviewed.

Field interviewing

Field interviewers were assigned a total of 1,213 cases, covering 30 geographic clusters. Cases were identified for the field for a number of reasons, including inability to locate in CATI, Puerto Rico residence, refusal in CATI, and exhaustion of locating leads. Only cases located in reasonable geographic proximity to a field interviewer were assigned to the field. Of the 1,213 cases fielded, 80 percent were contacted, and 90 percent of those were interviewed, for an unweighted response rate of 72 percent.

Nonresponse incentive

Incentives were offered as necessary to targeted sample members in order to encourage participation among sample members who would otherwise not have participated in the interview. Those offered incentives included the BPS:96/98 nonrespondents, a subset of refusal cases, and those who were hard to reach or could not be located. By the end of data collection, 4,106 sample members had been offered incentives and, of those, 72 percent were converted.

Indeterminate responses

Efforts were made to encourage response to all items in the BPS:1996/2001 interview and to convert indeterminate responses (i.e., "don't know" and "refusal" responses), especially for those items that historically have had high nonresponse (e.g., income). As a result, item nonresponse was quite low throughout the interview. Only 9 of the 445 CATI items had indeterminate response rates in excess of 10 percent.

Interview timing

The average administration time for the BPS:1996/2001 interview was 17.8 minutes, over 2 minutes shorter than the first follow-up interview (BPS:96/98). In the 2001 interview, BPS:96/98 nonrespondents took an average of 3.6 minutes longer than BPS:96/98 respondents. This is because the 2001 interview updated enrollment and employment information since the last interview (in 1996 for BPS:96/98 nonrespondents and in 1998 for BPS:96/98 respondents).

Online coding

The BPS:1996/2001 instrument included systems allowing the interviewer to perform computer-assisted online coding of literal responses for postsecondary institution, major, occupation, and industry. These online coding systems were designed to improve data quality by capitalizing on the availability of the respondent to clarify responses at the time the coding was performed. Only the postsecondary institution coding system—which included only U.S. institutions—resulted in more than 10 percent uncodeable responses, primarily because some sample members attended foreign institutions.

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Analysis Weights

Cross-sectional weights were developed for analyzing the respondents to the BPS:1996/2001 interview. In addition, two longitudinal weights were constructed, one for analyzing the students who participated in all three interviews—NPSAS:96, BPS:96/98, and BPS:1996/2001—and the other for analyzing the students who participated only in NPSAS:96 and BPS:1996/2001.Variances were computed using the Taylor Series and balanced repeated replications (BRR) techniques. Weighted response rates and survey design effect tables are provided in the complete report.

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Data Files

Because BPS:1996/2001 was the third of three interviews, the BPS:1996/2001 data set includes the derived variable and interview files for all three interviews. Also included are data collected from institution records, government databases, and admission test vendors throughout the period covered by the NPSAS:96 interview through the BPS:1996/2001 interview.

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In addition to the methodology report, NCES plans to release the following major products for BPS:1996/2001: a public-use Data Analysis System (DAS), restricted-use research files with an associated electronic codebook (ECB), and a descriptive summary of significant findings with an essay on the persistence and attainment of students at 4-year institutions. The DAS, containing derived variables and associated documentation, will enable users to specify and create numerous tables. Restricted-use files will be available to those researchers who need raw data not included in the DAS and who have applied for and received authorization from NCES. The descriptive summary, as the first NCES report based on this data set, will discuss major findings on persistence and attainment and present additional descriptive statistics in a table compendium.

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Data source: The NCES 1996/2001 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:1996/2001).

For technical information, see the complete report:

Wine, J.S., Heuer, R.E., Wheeless, S.C., Francis, T.L., Franklin, J.W., and Dudley, K.M. (2002). Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study: 1996–2001 (BPS:1996/2001) Methodology Report (NCES 2002–171).

Author affiliations: J.S. Wine, R.E. Heuer, S.C. Wheeless, T.L. Francis, J.W. Franklin, and K.M. Dudley, Research Triangle Institute.

For questions about content, contact Paula R. Knepper (

To obtain the complete report (NCES 2002–171), call the toll-free ED Pubs number (877–433–7827) or visit the NCES Electronic Catalog (

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