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, 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.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800) 677-6987.
 A stopout is a temporary break in enrollment.