NCES Proposes Including Pell Students’ Outcomes in IPEDS

February 19, 2016

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

There’s exciting news out of the U.S. Department of Education this week that will cheer all NCAN members, especially those with an eye on federal data collections. On February 18, ED opened a two month comment period on proposed revisions to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for 2016-2019. One of the proposed changes is to include a cohort of Pell Grant recipients in the Outcome Measures survey that will be implemented in 2017-18. This means that, for the first time, a federal data collection will regularly report institutional-level outcome measures for Pell Grant recipients, many of whom are served by NCAN members and other college access and success programs.

Although previous technical review panels recommended adding Pell Grant recipients to IPEDS’ Graduation Rates survey component, this subcohort would have come only from a pool of first-time, full-time students. Given that the majority of students attending college today are “non-traditional” and do not fit this description, relegating the Pell Grant recipients’ measure here would not have given a complete picture of these students’ outcomes.

Instead, ED has proposed including Pell Grant recipients as a fifth cohort in the upcoming Outcome Measures survey (along with first-time, full-time; first-time, part-time; full-time, non-first-time; and part-time, non-first-time students). These cohorts are much more comprehensive and offer a more fuller view of today’s college attendees.

NCAN and its members have long been frustrated by the lack of national- and institutional-level data related to Pell Grant recipients. Although the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 mandated that all Title IV-participating institutions disclose their Pell graduation rates on their websites, in practice few actually did, or they did so in a way that was not easily accessible. ED’s materials note that as a result of the HEOA’s mandate, “federal policymakers, the Administration, and public were still unable to obtain reliable and complete information on the federal investment of the Pell Grant program.”

Including Pell Grant recipients as a fifth cohort in the Outcome Measures survey will also allow for the comparison of Pell and non-Pell recipient outcomes, which will offer new insights into the efficacy of Pell Grants to provide access to underrepresented students.

Data on the outcomes of Pell Grant recipients are critically important not only because they shine a light on the progress of those students most at-risk for not completing a postsecondary certificate or degree but also because of taxpayers’ immense investment in Pell Grants. Materials from ED note that “in 2014-15, the federal government disbursed $30.3 billion in Pell Grants to 8.4 million full-time and part-time undergraduate students. In contrast, $13.1 billion was disbursed to 5.5 million students 10 years ago. The percent change shows a 10-year growth of the Pell Grant program by 131 percent in federal dollars to 50 percent more students.” Policymakers, taxpayers, and consumers all deserve to have a better idea of both how grant recipients will fare at a given institution and how they are faring in the aggregate nationwide.

Although NCES sample surveys like the Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal fill in some of these knowledge gaps, they are neither frequently updated nor available at the institutional level. 

The inclusion of this change to IPEDS represents a significant step forward, but it is worth noting that the change, if implemented as proposed, will create a cohort comprised of all students to whom a Pell Grant of any amount was disbursed. There may be distinctions between students receiving, for example, a maximum Pell Grant and students receiving a partial grant, and this change will not allow for disaggregation of outcomes around this distinction. Similarly, the Pell Grant cohort will not be further disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, or enrollment intensity. This will reduce both institutional burden and the likelihood of data being suppressed because of low sample sizes. These factors leave room for future refinement of the IPEDS data.

NCAN commends the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Department of Education that will greatly expand our knowledge of Pell recipients’ outcomes. This data is important when viewed through a number of lenses: policymakers, institutions, and, especially, the low-income students and their families served by NCAN members.

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