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Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study

1. Overview


BPS includes:

  • Base-year NPSAS data
  • Student interviews
  • Financial aid records

Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study was implemented in 1990 to complement the NCES longitudinal studies of high school cohort studies. The study improved data collected on students in postsecondary education. Three longitudinal studies comprise BPS, each starting with a specific cross-sectional sample of students attending postsecondary education, that is, from the 1990, 1996, or 2004 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) samples. NPSAS regularly collects financial aid and other data on nationally representative cross-sectional samples of postsecondary students (see NPSAS chapter). Each BPS draws its cohort from the NPSAS sample, which serves as the base-year data for that BPS. In the base year, first-time beginning (FTB) postsecondary students are identified, and then there are two subsequent follow-ups collecting data on postsecondary education and workforce experiences. The cross-sectional nature of the base year identifies BPS sample members who are considered nontraditional (older) students and traditional students and is, therefore, representative of all beginning students in postsecondary education.

Figure BPS-1 depicts the three completed BPS cohort studies. The first BPS cohort study included a subset of NPSAS:90 respondents who began their postsecondary education in the 1989-90 academic year. About 8,000 eligible students from NPSAS:90 were included in two subsequent follow-up data collections that were conducted in 1992 and 1994. The second BPS cohort study included a subset of NPSAS:96 respondents who began their postsecondary education in 1995-96. About 10,200 eligible students from NPSAS:96 were included in subsequent follow-ups in 1998 and 2001. The third BPS cohort study included a subset of NPSAS:04 respondents who began their postsecondary education in the 2003-04 academic year. Approximately 18,600 eligible students from NPSAS:04 were included in two subsequent follow-up data collections in 2006 and 2009.

Figure BPS-1. The three BPS cohort studies: NPSAS base year and successive follow-ups
NPSAS:90 ⇨ BPS:90/92 ⇨ BPS:90/94
NPSAS:96 ⇨ BPS:96/98 ⇨ BPS:96/01
NPSAS:04 ⇨ BPS:04/06 ⇨ BPS:04/09
NOTE: BPS is the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Survey; NPSAS is the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.


By starting with a cohort whose members have already entered postsecondary education and gathering data every 2 to 3 years for at least 6 years, BPS can describe to what extent, if any, students who start their education later differ in progress, persistence, and attainment from students who start earlier. In addition to student data, BPS collects federal financial aid records covering the entire undergraduate period, providing complete information on progress and persistence in school.



For each BPS cohort study, the NPSAS cross-sectional representative sample of postsecondary students serves as the sampling frame for BPS and provides the base year data for BPS. Included in the base year data are student aid information from the U.S. Department of Educationís Federal Student Aid Central Processing System (CPS), the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), and program data files, such as Pell and other grant programs. Other administrative data are obtained from sources, such as the National Student Clearinghouse.

Base-Year Data (from NPSAS). Base-year data for BPS cohort studies are obtained in NPSAS from students, parents (in the first and second cohort studies only), institutional records, and Department of Education financial aid records. These data cover major field of study; type and control of institution; financial aid; cost of attendance; age; sex; race/ethnicity; family income; reasons for school selection; current marital status; employment and income; community service; background and preparation for college; college experience; future expectations; and parentsí level of education, income, and occupation.

Successive Follow-Up Data Collections. Data are collected for each BPS cohort study 2 years and 4 to 5 years after the NPSAS base year data collection, corresponding to 3 years and 5 to 6 years after entering postsecondary education. Data are obtained from student interviews and financial aid records to describe: year in school; persistence in enrollment; academic progress; degree attainment; change in field of study; institution transfer; education-related experiences; current family status; expenses and financial aid; employment and income; employment-related training; community service; civic participation; and future expectations.

The first BPS cohort study obtained data in spring 1992 (BPS:90/92) and in spring 1994 (BPS:90/94). BPS:90/92 focused on continued education and experience, employment and financing, educational aspirations, and family formation. BPS:90/94 focused on continuing education experiences and financing, including degree attainment and graduate/professional school access; employment experiences; educational and employment aspirations; and family formation.

The second BPS cohort study obtained data in 1998 (BPS:96/98) and in 2001 (BPS:96/01). The BPS:96/98 interview gathered information on postsecondary enrollment, employment, income, family formation/household composition, student financial aid, debts, education experiences, and education and career aspirations. BPS:96/01 focused exclusively on activities since the BPS:96/98 interview, collecting information on postsecondary enrollment and degree attainment; undergraduate education experiences; postbaccalaureate education experiences (for those sample members who had completed a bachelorís degree since the last interview); employment; and family, financial, and disability status as well as civic participation since the last interview.

The third BPS cohort study obtained data in 2006 (BPS:04/06) and in 2009 (BPS:04/09). BPS:04/06 focused primarily on continued education and experience, education financing, entry into the workforce, the relationship between experiences during postsecondary education and various societal and personal outcomes, and returns to the individual and to society on the investment in postsecondary education. BPS:04/09 focused primarily on employment, baccalaureate degree completion, graduate and professional school access issues, and returns to the individual and to society from the completion of a postsecondary degree. Postsecondary transcripts were also collected from all institutions attended by members of the third BPS cohort study.


Each BPS cohort study includes a base year (defined by the NPSAS) with two subsequent follow-ups of data collection, occurring 2 years and then 4 to 5 years later.