IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The What Works Clearinghouse Goes to College

By Vanessa Anderson, Research Scientist, NCEE

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) was founded in 2002 and, in its first decade, focused mainly on reviewing studies of programs, policies, products and practices—or interventions—for improving student outcomes in pre-K, elementary and secondary schools. But in 2012, the WWC broadened its focus and has been using rigorous standards to review studies of interventions designed to increase the success of students in postsecondary education.

This week, the WWC launches a new topic—Supporting Postsecondary Success—and it is a good time to look at the work we’re doing, and will do, in the postsecondary area. 

The WWC postsecondary topic area includes reviews of studies on a wide range of interventions, including learning communities, summer bridge programs, multi-faceted support programs, academic mentoring, and interventions that aim to reduce performance anxiety. As of today, 294 postsecondary studies have been reviewed by the WWC. Those reviews are summarized in six Intervention Reports, 25 Single Study Reviews, and four Quick Reviews. And there’s much more in the works!  For instance, a WWC Educator’s Practice Guide that includes strategies for supporting students in developmental education is planned for publication later this year. (Learn more about Practice Guides)

Identifying Studies for Review

In the postsecondary topic area, there are currently three main ways that studies are identified by the WWC for review.

The first is studies that are reviewed for WWC Intervention Reports. All WWC Intervention Reports use a systematic review process to summarize evidence from all available studies on a given intervention. The WWC conducts a broad search for all publicly available studies of interventions that are related to the topic. This process often identifies hundreds of studies for review. The effectiveness studies are then reviewed against WWC standards. Only the highest quality studies are summarized in an Intervention Report.

We released two new intervention reports this week as part of our new Supporting Postsecondary Success topic. You can view the new Intervention Reports on Summer Bridge programs and first-year experience courses on the WWC website.

The second way that studies are reviewed by the WWC is through Quick Reviews, which are performed on studies that have received a great deal of media attention. In these reports, the WWC provides a brief description of the study, the author-reported results, and a study rating. We like to think of Quick Reviews as a way to help people decide whether to fully believe the results of a study, based on the research design and how the study was conducted. For example, we released a quick review earlier this month that focused on a study of computer usage and student outcomes for a class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Finally, the WWC reviews postsecondary studies submitted as supporting evidence for discretionary grant competitions funded by the U.S. Department of Education, such as the Strengthening Institutions Program, First in the World and TRIO Student Support Services. These grant competitions require applicants to submit studies as evidence of the effectiveness of the interventions they propose to implement. The WWC reviews these studies and includes the results of those reviews in our database.

If you want to see all the studies on postsecondary interventions that have been reviewed by WWC you can check out—and download—the Reviewed Studies Database. In the “Topic Areas” dropdown menu, just select “Postsecondary,” and then easily customize the search by rating, publication type, and/or reasons for the review (such as a grant competition).  

For more information, visit the WWC postsecondary topic area on the website. To stay up-to-date on WWC news, information, and products, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and sign up for the WWC newsflash!

A Milestone for Education Statistics: The 50th edition of the Digest of Education Statistics

By Tom Snyder

For more than five decades, the Digest of Education Statistics has been addressing the data needs of a wide array of people, from policymakers who require a reliable, unbiased foundation for decision-making to researchers who seek to unravel the complex facts underlying key issues of the day; from reporters who need in-depth information for education-related news stories to organizational leaders who rely on annually updated data to steer their course. The Digest also serves the needs of everyday citizens who may be curious about such things as the number of high school graduates in the United States, the latest trends in postsecondary costs and financial assistance, or the earnings of employees with various types of degrees.

Released on April 28, Digest of Education Statistics 2014 is the 50th in a series of reports that has been issued annually since 1962, except for combined editions for the years 1977-78, 1983-84, and 1985-86. The Digest provides a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of American education from prekindergarten through graduate school. Subject matter includes the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to data on educational attainment, finances, federal funds for education, libraries, and international education.

The Digest continues a long tradition of recurring statistical reports issued by NCES and its predecessor agencies. From 1869-70 to 1916-17, statistical data were included in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Education. A similar report, the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States, was issued every other year from 1917-18 to 1957-58.

By the summer of 1962, the need for an annual statistical summary report had become obvious to agency staff, and the first edition of the Digest was published. Dr. Vance Grant, who played a leading role in developing the first edition of the Digest, continued to direct the project until the 1985-86 edition. During these years, the Digest responded to the growing data needs of policymakers by adding new information on children with disabilities, preprimary education, career and technical education, educational attainment, and salary data. In 1987, I took over the responsibility of publishing the Digest, and we have continued to make changes that meet the needs of the policy community. This includes expanding the quantity of state-level tables, constructing tables to show institution-level data for large school districts and colleges, and adding more racial/ethnic data.

Beginning with the 1995 edition, a strong web presence was developed for the Digest, reflecting increased needs for digital access to education data. The full tabular content of the report is presented on the NCES website in HTML format, and a spreadsheet version of each statistical table is also available for users to download. The 2013 edition introduced a revamped web structure and table-numbering system that makes it easier for users to quickly find the latest version of a specific table, as well as to explore all the tables that are currently available on a specific topic. Rather than numbering the entire set of tables sequentially, the latest editions of the Digest use a subject-matter numbering sequence that will remain the same year after year. The most current versions of Digest tables are posted to the website on a rolling basis, before the entire edition of the report has been completed.

Over the years, the Digest has evolved as an education data resource that continues to support the information needs of our modern society. The newly released 2014 edition provides convenient online access to 594 tables covering the full range of education topics.

Celebrate National Library Month: The Future of Libraries

By Christopher Cody and Bao Le

April is National Library Month! Did you know that NCES collects data on libraries?

While libraries have traditionally provided the public with a physical space for learning and accessing resources and information, the role of the library has expanded with advances in technology. With the dawn of the digital age, libraries have been working to meet the challenges of expanding access, learning opportunities, and overall public connection.[i] Academic libraries in particular, which are libraries located within postsecondary institutions, have embraced technological improvements, as shown in data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The Academic Libraries (AL) Survey has a rich history at NCES, starting in 1966 when we began conducting the surveys on a three-year cycle as part of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The survey moved around a bit, but is now fully housed in IPEDS and is currently administered on a yearly cycle.

IPEDS’s AL Survey offers an abundance of data to track the advancement of libraries, including data on topics such as collections/circulations, expenses, and interlibrary services. These data show a clear progression of libraries into the digital age. Here are some highlights:

  • In 1996, “80 percent of institutions with an academic library had access from within the library to an electronic catalog of the library’s holdings, 81 percent had internet access within the library.”[ii]
  • In 1996, about 40 percent had library reference service by e-mail. Just 10 years later, 72 percent of academic libraries provided library reference service by e-mail or the internet.[iii]
  • In 2006, only 6 percent of all academic library collections were e-books. By 2014-15, about 23 percent of all collections were e-books and 31 percent of the total library collections were from electronic and digital sources (e-books, e-media, and databases) as shown in Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2014; and Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 2014: First Look (Provisional Data).
  • In 2014-15, postsecondary institutions housed approximately 1.1 billion items in physical library collections (books and media) and about 521 million items in electronic library collections (digital/electronic books, databases, and digital electronic media).

 

Over the past 20 years, libraries have evolved to ensure information is accessible to the public through the latest mediums of technology.


So in honor of National Library Month, take advantage of the abundant historical academic and school library data available through NCES located on the Library Statistics Program page. More recent academic library data can be accessed by visiting the Use the Data portal on the IPEDS website.

 

[i] Clark, L., Levien, R. E., Garmer, A. K., and Figueroa, M. (2015). Re-Thinking the Roles of U.S. Libraries. In D. Bogart and A. Inouye (Eds.), Library and Book Trade Almanac: formerly The Bowker Annual 2015, 60th Edition (pg. 3-22). Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc.

[ii] Cahalan, M. W., Justh, N. M., and Williams, J. W. (1999). Academic Libraries: 1996 (NCES 2000-326). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

[iii] Holton, B., Hardesty, L., and O’Shea, P. (2008). Academic Libraries: 2006 (NCES 2008-337). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Beginning postsecondary students: Persistence and attainment after 3 years

By David A. Richards

The number of students enrolling in postsecondary education has increased over the past several decades. While this increase in enrollment shows that more students are pursuing postsecondary credentials and degrees, it is also important to consider the number of students that go on to complete their postsecondary education. Data from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS) can help researchers, policy-makers, educators, and the public answer questions about whether students are persisting through their educations and earning credentials. BPS data can also help answer questions about how these outcomes may differ by institutional and student-level characteristics.

The recently released Persistence and Attainment of 2011-12 First-Time Postsecondary Students After 3 Years contains findings from data collected from the Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) longitudinal study. This report answers questions such as, what percentage of first-time students who began postsecondary education in 2012 were still enrolled three years later? How many had earned a credential, and how did rates differ across different types of postsecondary institutions and degree programs?

This first look report on BPS:12/14 data shows that, among 2011–12 first-time postsecondary students, 7 percent had completed a certificate, 7 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 1 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Of the students who had not yet earned a credential, 39 percent were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 16 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 30 percent were not enrolled at any institution by the spring of 2014.

At the baccalaureate level, among students who first enrolled in 4-year institutions and were seeking bachelor’s degrees, 1 percent had completed a certificate, 1 percent had completed an associate’s degree, and 3 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree at any institution within 3 years. Another 73 percent of the students seeking a bachelor’s degree were enrolled at a 4-year institution, 6 percent were enrolled at a less-than-4-year institution, and 16 percent were no longer enrolled at any institution.


Percentage distribution of first-time public 2-year college students 3 years after entry, by student age: 2012–14

! Interpret data with caution. Estimate is unstable because the standard error represents more than 30 percent but less than 51 percent of the estimate.
NOTE: Includes first-time postsecondary students starting at a Title IV eligible postsecondary institution in the 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2011-12.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:12/14).


BPS also contains data on attainment based on student characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and age. These data can be examined by the type of program in which students are enrolled and the first institution in which they enrolled. For example, among first-time postsecondary students beginning at a 2-year public college, 4 percent of those students who were age 18 or younger when they enrolled in 2011 had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 14 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 45 percent were still enrolled in a postsecondary institution, and 37 percent were no longer enrolled in postsecondary education. For students that were age 30 or older when they enrolled, 8 percent had completed a certificate by the spring of 2014, 8 percent had completed an associate’s degree, 29 percent were still enrolled, and 56 percent were no longer enrolled. Differences by other student characteristics, such as sex, race/ethnicity, dependency status, and parental educational attainment are available in the report.

BPS surveys nationally representative cohorts of first-time, beginning students at three points in time: at the end of their first year, and then three and six years after first starting in postsecondary education. It collects data on a variety of topics, including student demographic characteristics, school and work experiences, persistence, transfer, and degree attainment. BPS is a detailed follow-up to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a nationally representative, cross-sectional study of U.S. postsecondary students designed to collect data on how postsecondary students pay for their education. The most recent BPS study, (BPS:12/14) used the 2012 NPSAS data as its base year (which included enrollment characteristics, education aspirations, and demographics) and conducted its first follow-up in 2014. (Another follow-up will be conducted in 2017.) During the 2014 follow-up study, BPS participants  were surveyed on their enrollment patterns since 2012—providing information about transfers, stopouts[1], attendance, and credentials earned—as well as on their employment histories. Study data were also drawn from a variety of other resources.

If you’re interested in comparing these findings to earlier BPS iterations, you can find earlier first look reports on the BPS publication page. BPS:12/14 data are also available for analysis through the online DataLab tool. If you have questions about the report or this data, please reach out to the National Center for Education Statistics at NCES.info@ed.gov or by phone at (800) 677-6987.

 

[1] A stopout is a temporary break in enrollment.

Students with Disabilities and Postsecondary Success: An Interview with Lynn Newman, Ed.D. and Joseph Madaus, Ph.D.

By Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer                                                                                     

Although more students with disabilities are pursuing postsec ondary education, completion rates for this group of students have not changed very much in recent years. In a two-year study funded through an IES grant, Lynn Newman, of SRI International, and Joseph Madaus, director of the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut, have examined the impact that supports and accommodations have had on the postsecondary success of students with disabilities.

             

 

At the heart of their study is the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 , the largest and richest data set available to address the postsecondary experiences and outcomes of youth with disabilities. It is the only dataset that can address those topics for postsecondary students with disabilities nationally, independent of students’ decisions to disclose a disability to their postsecondary school.

Below are excerpts from an email interview with the researchers. 

 

What motivated your study, and what questions are you grappling with?

Although postsecondary enrollment rates for students with disabilities have increased dramatically for youth in all disability categories over the past two decades, postsecondary completion rates for students with disabilities have remained stagnant over time. These students continue to be less likely to graduate from postsecondary school than their general population peers.

This led us to ask

  • What is the link between receipt of postsecondary supports and accommodations – both those available because of a disability and those available to the general student body – and postsecondary persistence and completion for students with disabilities?
  • What factors are associated with requesting/receiving postsecondary supports and accommodations?

What are your major findings?

First and foremost, students with disabilities who received supports, particularly supports available to the full student body (such as tutoring and access to writing and study centers), are more likely to persist in and complete their postsecondary programs. This finding applies to students with disabilities enrolled at both 2-year and 4-year colleges.

However, we didn’t find a significant relationship between receipt of disability-specific supports and accommodations (such as test accommodations, readers, interpreters) and postsecondary persistence or completion for the full population of students with disabilities. We found that the link between supports/accommodations and outcomes differs by disability category. For example, students who were deaf or hard of hearing and received disability-specific accommodations and supports were more likely to persist in or complete postsecondary education than were those who had not received these types of help.  

Does your research suggest why some students seek out or use supports more than others?

Fewer than half of those with disabilities in postsecondary institutions accessed the types of supports available to the general student body, and less than one-quarter received disability-specific help during postsecondary school. Students who received transition planning education in high school and those whose transition plans specified needed postsecondary supports and accommodations were significantly more likely to access both generally-available and disability-specific supports in postsecondary school, particularly at 2-year institutions.

If you could tell each of your target audiences what your research means for them in practical terms, what would you say?

Students and families: By accessing supports and help at postsecondary institutions,  you increase your odds for postsecondary success. If you are uncomfortable sharing information about your disability, which is required to receive disability-specific supports, you should, at least, access the types of supports available to the general student body, such as tutoring and writing centers.

High school staff: Help students avail themselves of supports at the postsecondary level through transition planning. Transition planning education and transition plans that specify postsecondary accommodation needs significantly affect whether students seek postsecondary supports. Clearly, the transition education and planning you can do matters. However, as many as one third to one half of high school students with disabilities do not receive such transition planning services.

Postsecondary staff: Keep in mind that only 35% of students with disabilities who received services in high school disclosed their disability to their postsecondary institutions, so you probably have more students with disabilities on your campus than you may be aware of. Because receipt of postsecondary supports (especially general supports available to all students) are particularly beneficial to students with disabilities, we encourage active and broad outreach about these supports to the entire student body, rather than focusing on just the few students who have chosen to disclose their disability.

In addition, we encourage professional development for postsecondary staff, particularly those involved in providing generally available supports, to help them better recognize and support students with disabilities.

Researchers: Consider the representativeness of your samples of postsecondary students with disabilities. If respondents are identified through self-disclosure of a disability, your sample probably has a large amount of underreported students with disabilities overall. Your sample is also likely to be biased, in that students with more visible disabilities are much more likely to disclose their disability than are those in the higher incidence disability categories, such as learning disabilities.

What might some next research steps be?

Given our findings, we believe there are many opportunities for research related to postsecondary education for students with disabilities.  For example, researchers could study questions about the characteristics, content, extent, and timing of effective postsecondary supports and accommodations. The field would also benefit from additional knowledge about effective high school transition planning education and answers to questions about the characteristics and structures of high schools and postsecondary schools that offer effective supports and accommodations and transition planning education. 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov.