Skip Navigation

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) examines the characteristics of students in postsecondary education, with special focus on how they finance their education.


NPSAS helps fulfill the NCES mandate to collect, analyze, and publish statistics related to education. The purpose of NPSAS is to compile a comprehensive research dataset, based on student-level records, on financial aid provided by the federal government, the states, postsecondary institutions, and private agencies, along with student demographic and enrollment data. NPSAS is the primary source of information used by the federal government (and others, such as researchers and higher education associations) to analyze student financial aid and to inform public policy on such programs as the Pell grants and Direct/Stafford loans.

Survey Design and Methodology

NPSAS is a complex cross-sectional study with a 2-stage sampling design. Institutions are sampled first, then students are selected from the sampled institutions’ enrollment lists. The study is designed to be nationally representative of students attending Title IV postsecondary institutions during an academic year. Data come from multiple sources, including institutional records and government databases. Detailed data on enrollment and participation in student financial aid programs are extracted from institutional records. Data about demographics, family circumstances, education and work experiences, and student expectations are collected from students through a web-based multi-mode survey (self-administered and computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI)).

NPSAS was repeated every three years between the 1986-87 academic year (NPSAS:87) and 1995-96 (NPSAS:96) and every four years starting with NPSAS:96. A special Administrative Collection was conducted in 2017-18 (NPSAS:18-AC) in which only administrative data from the Department’s data systems and institutional student records were compiled to yield state representative data. NPSAS:20 includes national and state-level representative data on postsecondary students enrolled in 2019-20. Specifically, NPSAS:20 includes nationally representative samples of undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States. It also includes state-representative samples of undergraduate students in some states, as well as in public 2 year and in public 4 year institution sectors within some states.

Select states were oversampled in NPSAS:04 and NPSAS:08. For NPSAS:18-AC and NPSAS:20, most states were oversampled to allow for state-level analyses for undergraduate students.

NPSAS Longitudinal Spin-offs

As a large, nationally representative sample of institutions and students, NPSAS offers a highly efficient, cost-effective way to identify nationally representative samples of student subpopulations of interest to policymakers and to obtain baseline data for longitudinal study of these subpopulations. Specifically, NPSAS data provide the base-year sample for the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) longitudinal study and the Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) longitudinal study. For BPS, the longitudinal cohort consists of students beginning their postsecondary education during the NPSAS year (NPSAS:90, NPSAS:96, NPSAS:04, NPSAS:12, and NPSAS:20); the BPS study follows these students over time to examine such issues as persistence and the effects of financial aid on subsequent enrollment. For B&B, NPSAS provides the base-year sample of students obtaining a baccalaureate degree during the NPSAS year (NPSAS:93, NPSAS:2000, NPSAS:08, and NPSAS:16); the B&B study follows these students over time to examine issues such as the transition from college to work and access to graduate school.