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National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS)

1. Overview

NPSAS collects information from:
  • Student institutional record abstracts
  • U.S. Department of Education administrative records
  • Student interviews
  • Parent interviews

National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) is a comprehensive nationwide study conducted every three to four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to determine how students and their families pay for postsecondary education. It is designed to address policy questions resulting from the rapid growth of financial aid programs and the succession of changes in financial aid program policies since 1986. The first NPSAS was conducted in the 1986–87 academic year (NPSAS:87). The most recently completed in the series was administered in the 2015–16 academic year (NPSAS:16). Other administrations have been conducted in academic year 1989–90 (NPSAS:90), 1992–93 (NPSAS:93), 1995–96 (NPSAS:96), 1999–2000 (NPSAS:2000), 2003–04 (NPSAS:04), 2007–08 (NPSAS:08), and 2011–12 (NPSAS:12). The ACG and National SMART grants were discontinued in the 2011–12 academic year, so information on these grants was not collected in NPSAS:12.

NPSAS is based on a nationally representative sample of all students in eligible postsecondary education institutions in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico1. Sampled institutions represent all major sectors, including public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, and less-than-2-year schools, community colleges, 4-year colleges, and major universities with graduate-level programs. Study members include both undergraduate and graduate students who receive financial aid as well as those who do not. NPSAS data are obtained from administrative records of student financial aid, interviews with students, and, in prior cycles, interviews with a subsample of parents.

NPSAS also provides baseline data for two longitudinal studies: the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) and the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B; see respective chapters). NPSAS:90, NPSAS:96, NPSAS:04, and NPSAS:12 served as baselines for BPS cohorts; NPSAS:93, NPSAS:2000, NPSAS:08, and NPSAS:16 were the baselines for B&B cohorts.

Unlike prior administrations, NPSAS:04 was conducted as the student component study of the 2004 National Study of Faculty and Students (NSoFaS:04). The faculty component—the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF:04)—was conducted primarily as a separate study, with the exception of institution sampling and contacting (see NSOPF chapter). NPSAS:04 and NPSAS:08 study samples were also supplemented to provide representative estimates by institutional sector for several states.


The purpose of NPSAS is to produce reliable national estimates of characteristics related to financial aid for postsecondary students, the role of financial aid in how students and their families finance postsecondary education, and the extent to which the financial aid system is meeting the needs of students and families.



NPSAS collects data on students from several sources, including: student records at the institution attended, student interviews, the Federal Student Aid Central Processing System (CPS), the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS), the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), ACT and SAT files, the IPEDS Institutional Characteristics (IC) file, and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Student Record Collection. The following information on students is obtained from institutional records: year in school, major field of study, type and control of institution, attendance status, tuition and fees, admission test scores, financial aid awards, cost of attendance, student budget information and expected family contribution for aided students, grade point average, age, and date first enrolled. Typically, an appointed Institutional Coordinator or a field data collector extracts the information from student records at a sample institution and enters it into a secure, customized web data collection system. In some cases, institutions and centralized systems choose to create and transmit a data file containing this information for all sample students from the sample institution(s).

Student Interview. Web-based student interviews (completed as a telephone interview or by self-administration) provide data on level (undergraduate, graduate2), major field of study, financial aid at other schools attended during the year, other sources of financial support, education experiences, current marital status, age, race/ethnicity, sex, highest degree expected, and employment and income.

U.S. Department of Education Administrative Records. Since NPSAS:96, the following information has been collected from U.S. Department of Education Central Processing System (CPS) and National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS): types and amounts of federal financial aid received, cumulative Pell Grant and Direct loan amounts (also known as Stafford loan), and loan repayment status. In NPSAS:08, information was also obtained for recipients of the new Academic Competitiveness Grant (ACG) and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grant (National SMART Grant). The ACG and National SMART grants were discontinued in the 2011–12 academic year, so information on these grants was not collected in NPSAS:12.

Other administrative databases. Data is also collected from commercial databases, such as: enrollment, degree, and certificate records from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC); ACT and SAT test score data from ACT, Inc. and College Board. NPSAS:16 also included  military service and veterans' education benefits information from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Parent Interview. Telephone interviews with a limited sample of students’ parents (conducted through NPSAS:96) collected supplemental data, including parents’ marital status, age, highest level of education achieved, income, amount of financial support provided to children, types of financing used to pay children’s educational expenses, and occupation and industry.

Out-of-School Student Loan Recipient Survey. This survey was only conducted as part of NPSAS:87. It collected data on major field of study; years attended and degrees received (if any); type and control of institution; financial aid; aid repayment status; age; sex; race/ethnicity; marital status; income; and employment history (occupation, industry, and salary).


Triennial from 1986-87 through 1995-96, and quadrennially beginning in 1999-2000. Beginning in 2017–18, an administrative data collection will also be conducted quadrennially. The next full data collection with a student interview is scheduled for 2019–20, and the first administrative data collection is scheduled for spring of 2018.

Data Availability

Public-use data from NPSAS:96 through NPSAS:16 is available at Public-use data from NPSAS:87 through NPSAS:93 is available at Information on NPSAS restricted-use data files is available at

1Puerto Rico was not included in the 1987 and 2012 administrations of NPSAS.
2Previous administrations of NPSAS have included samples of first-professional students. However, IPEDS has replaced the term "first-professional" with "doctor's degree – professional practice.