IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Expanding Student Success Rates to Reflect Today’s College Students

By Gigi Jones

Since the 1990s, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has collected and published graduation rates for colleges and universities around the country. These rates were based on traditional college students—first-time, full-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduate students (FTFT) who, generally, enrolled right after high school.

While these data are insightful, some have argued the FTFT graduation rate only provides a part of the picture because it doesn’t consider non-traditional students, including those who are part-time students and transfers. This is an important point because, over the past decade, the number of non-traditional students has outpaced the increase in traditional students, mostly driven by growth in those who have transferred schools.  

The new IPEDS Outcome Measures survey was designed to help answer these changes. Starting with the 2015-16 collection cycle, entering students at more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions must be reported in one of four buckets, also called cohorts (see Figure below).

The FTFT cohort is similar to what has been collected since the 1990s, but the Outcome Measures adds three new student groups to the equation: 

  • First-time, part-time students (FTPT), who attend less than a full-time credit workload each term (typically less than 12-credits) and who have no prior postsecondary attendance; 
  • Non-first-time students, also known as transfer-in students, who are enrolled at a full-time level (NFTFT); and
  • Non-first-time students, also known as transfer-in students, who are enrolled at a part-time level (NFTPT).

For these four cohorts, postsecondary institutions report the awards conferred at two points of time after the students entered the institution: 6 years and 8 years. If students did not receive an award, then institutions must report their enrollment status one of three ways: 1) Still enrolled at the same institution; 2) Transferred out of the institution; or 3) Enrollment status is unknown.

These changes help respond to those who feel that the FTFT graduation rates do not reflect the larger student population, in particular public 2-year colleges that serve a larger, non-traditional college student population. Since 2008, steps have been taken to construct and refine the data collection of non-traditional college students through a committee of higher education experts (PDF) and public Technical Review Panels (see summaries for panels 37, 40 and 45).

The 2016-17 preliminary Outcome Measures data were released on October 12, as part of a larger report on IPEDS winter data collection. The data for individual schools can be found on our College Navigator site.  The final data for 2015-16 will be released in early 2018. Sign up for the IES News Flash to be notified when the new data are released or follow IPEDS on Twitter. You can also visit the IPEDS Outcome Measures website for more information. 

While this is an important step in the process, we are continuing to improve the data collection process. Starting with the 2017-18 Outcome Measures collection, the survey includes more groups (i.e., Pell Grant v. Non-Pell Grant recipients), a third award status point (4-years after entry), and the identification of the type of award (i.e., certificates, Associate’s, and Bachelor’s). Watch for the release of these data in fall 2018. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was updated on October 12 to reflect the release of Outcome Measures data.

Getting to Know and Use the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System

By Sarah Souders

More than 3,915,918 individuals were employed by degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2015. These employees provided services and support to the 19,977,270 students attending the nation’s 4,562 degree-granting institutions.

We know this information—and much more—because of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a program in the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In fact, these data points only scratch the surface of information collected and updated annually by IPEDS. Each year, IPEDS issues 12 surveys to all postsecondary institutions receiving Title IV Federal Aid[1] and some institutions that participate by choice. The surveys provide data on a broad range of topics, from enrollment, admissions, and cost to grad rates, faculty, and human resources.  These data are reported by gender, race/ethnicity, institution type, and more.

But we don’t just want people to know about the data – we want them to use it!

The “Use the Data” landing page (see image below) provides many options for analysis. Users can look up and compare institutions, view trends and statistical tables for specific data points, download a complete survey file, customize a data file, or download a report summarizing the data for specific institutions.

Screen shot of IPEDS Use the Data website

There are many options for analysis given the extensive data collection and number of tools. One tool, the IPEDS Trend Generator, allows users to select a subject and question to observe trends over time. The trend generator allows users to explore enrollment trends, among many other topics.

Below is an example of a bar graph that can be generated using this tool. With the click of a couple of buttons, you can quickly learn that the number of students attending postsecondary institutions (as measured by 12-month enrollment) has been declining in recent years, after peaking in 2010-11 at 29,522,688 students. By 2014-15, enrollment decreased to 27,386,275 students, a decline of more than 2 million students.  

In addition to producing graphical displays, data from the Trend Generator can quickly be exported to an Excel file.

Chart showing trend data on postsecondary enrollment

Users also have the option to create custom data files which can be exported to Excel, SAS, STATA, or SPSS files. Users can choose individual or specific institutions using their own criteria, or groups of similar institutions can be selected at once by using predetermined categorizations. Some pre-set groupings include whether the institution is the state’s land grant institution, a Historically Black College and University, or a tribal college. Institutional groupings can also be selected by geographic characteristics and other groupings, such as highest degree offered, availability of distance education, and Carnegie classification. The full list of institutional groupings can be found on the IPEDS website

After selecting the institutions, users can choose the variables to be analyzed. In the screenshot below, you can see that the variable “number and salaries of non-medical full-time staff” allows users to select breakouts by academic rank, such as professor, associate professor, lecturer, etc. These breakouts can provide greater detail with regard to current and average salary. Once the variables are selected, the desired data file is complete and can be exported into one of the available formats.

Screenshot of IPEDS categories

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System contains a multitude of data which can be accessed for all levels of analysis, whether you are an experienced statistician or just a casual user. If you are using the data and have questions or comments, contact the IPEDS Help Desk by phone at 1-877-225-2568 or by email: .

Sarah Souders was a 2017 summer intern for NCES. She is a student at The Ohio State University. 

[1] Title IV of the HEA authorizes the federal government’s primary student aid programs, which are the major source of federal support to postsecondary students. Title IV aid includes programs like Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and Federal Work Study. If an institution accepts aid from programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (20 USC 1094, Section 487(a)(17) and 34 CFR 668.14(b)(19)), then they are required to complete all IPEDS surveys.


Distance education: Learning in non-traditional settings

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Distance education courses and programs provide students with flexible learning opportunities. Distance education has become increasingly common at the postsecondary level. Many postsecondary institutions offer at least some online courses, while other institutions exclusively offer online programs and courses taught exclusively online. NCES collects data on distance education through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

IPEDS data on distance education provides information on the number and percentage of students participating in distance education at different types of institutions. In fall 2013, about 4.6 million undergraduate students participated in distance education, with 2.0 million students (11 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the 2.0 million undergraduate students who exclusively took distance education courses, 1.1 million students (6 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 0.8 million (4 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.

At the postbaccalaureate level, some 895,000 students (31 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) participated in distance education in fall 2013, with 677,000 students (23 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the students who exclusively took distance education courses, 273,000 students (9 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 362,000 students (12 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.

Percentage of undergraduate students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions who participated exclusively in distance education courses, by control and level of institution: Fall 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 311.15.

The percentage of undergraduate students participating exclusively in distance education programs differed by institutional control. In fall 2013, a higher percentage of students at private for-profit 4-year institutions exclusively took distance education courses (58 percent) than did students at any other control and level of institution. Similarly, at the postbaccalaureate level, the percentage of students who exclusively took distance education courses in fall 2013 was higher for those enrolled at private for-profit institutions (79 percent) than for those at private nonprofit (19 percent) and public institutions (16 percent).

Data on distance education in IPEDS is at the institution level, and therefore does not provide data on how distance education may differ by student characteristics. However, NPSAS contains both institution- and student-level data and can therefore be used to examine whether participation in distance education differs based on student’s demographic characteristics. For example, findings from NPSAS show that a higher percentage of older adults enrolled in distance education classes than younger adults. In 2011–12, a higher percentage of undergraduates 30 years old and over took distance education classes or their entire degree program through distance education (41 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than undergraduates 24 to 29 years of age (36 percent and 8 percent, respectively) or undergraduates 15 to 23 years of age (26 percent and 3 percent, respectively).

Findings from NPSAS also show that enrollment in distance education was higher in 2011-12 than in previous years in which these data were collected. A higher percentage of undergraduates took distance education classes in 2011–12 (32 percent) than in 2007–08 (21 percent) or in 2003–04 (16 percent). Also, a higher percentage of undergraduates took their entire degree program through distance education in 2011–12 (6 percent) than in 2007–08 (4 percent) or in 2003–04 (5 percent).

Enrollment in distance education will likely continue to grow as additional institutions offer individual courses, or even entire degree programs, online. Drawing on new technologies, the scope of distance education activities have expanded to reach millions of students. Current and future NCES data collections will continue to monitor this trend.