Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study

1. Overview

BPS includes:
  • Base-year NPSAS data
  • Student interviews
  • Financial aid records

The Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study was implemented in 1990 to complement the NCES longitudinal studies of high school cohort collections. BPS improved data collected on students in postsecondary education. Four longitudinal studies compose BPS, each starting with a specific cross-sectional sample of students attending postsecondary education from the 1990, 1996, 2004, or 2012 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 the NPSAS chapter). Each BPS collection draws its cohort from the NPSAS sample, which serves as the base-year data for that BPS collection. In the base year, first-time beginning (FTB) postsecondary students are identified. Then there are two subsequent follow-ups collecting data on postsecondary education and workforce experiences. The cross-sectional base year includes BPS sample members who are nontraditional students as well as traditional students and is, therefore, representative of all beginning students in postsecondary education.

Figure BPS-1 depicts the four BPS cohort collections to date. The first BPS collection included a subset of NPSAS:90 respondents who began their postsecondary education in the 1989–90 academic year. The second BPS collection included a subset of NPSAS:96 respondents who began their postsecondary education in 1995–96. The third BPS collection included a subset of NPSAS:04 respondents who began their postsecondary education in the 2003–04 academic year. The current BPS collection includes a subset of NPSAS:12 respondents who began their postsecondary education in the 2011–12 academic year. A follow-up data collection was conducted in 2014, and a second follow-up occurred in 2017.

Figure BPS–1. The four 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
NPSAS:12 ⇨ BPS:12/14 ⇨ BPS:12/17
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 then gathering data every 2 to 3 years for up to 6 years, BPS can describe to what extent, if any, students who start their postsecondary education later in life 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 comprehensive information on progress and persistence in school.



For each BPS collection, 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 Education’s Federal Student Aid Central Processing System (CPS), the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), and program data files, such as from 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 parents’ level of education, income, and occupation.

Successive Follow-Up Data Collections. Data are collected for each BPS collection 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 was also collected through the NSLDS in a federal student aid supplement for two cohorts in 2015. Data are obtained from student interviews and financial aid records to describe the sample member’s years in school; persistence in enrollment; academic progress; degree attainment; changes in field of study; institution transfers; 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 collection 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 collection 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; post-baccalaureate education experiences (for those sample members who had completed a bachelor’s degree since the last interview); employment; and family, financial, and disability status as well as civic participation since the last interview.

The third BPS collection 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 collection.

The fourth BPS collection obtained data in 2014 (BPS:12/14) and again in 2017. As with previous BPS studies, BPS:12/14 included a multimode student interview component that collected information on students’ education and employment since their first year in postsecondary education. BPS:12/14 also focused on student enrollment patterns since 2012, including any transfers to other institutions, stopout periods, attendance intensity, and certificates and degrees earned. BPS:12/17 focused on the degree completion of students still enrolled after 2014 and the employment of those no longer enrolled.

In 2015, additional data on federal student loans and loan repayment was collected as a supplement to BPS:96/01 and BPS:04/09. The 2015 Federal Student Aid Supplement (FSA Supplement) is a 20-year follow-up to BPS:96/01 and a 12-year follow-up to BPS:04/09. The FSA Supplement consists solely of administrative data obtained from NSLDS and provides complete federal loan receipt and repayment histories for each borrower in BPS:96/01 and BPS:04/09, as well as complete federal grant award histories for grant recipients. Researchers can use the FSA Supplement data in conjunction with all previously available data for BPS:96/01 and BPS:04/09 to analyze borrowing patterns, grant receipt, and the use of repayment options such as deferment, consolidation, and default.


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

Data Availability

Public-use data for BPS through BPS:12/14 is available for analysis through DataLab at For more information on the BPS public- and restricted-use data, please see