NSC Research Center Reports: A Primer

August 28, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

Avid readers of NCAN’s Success Digest know that we often feature reports from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the research branch of the National Student Clearinghouse. (For non-members, Success Digest is NCAN’s weekly member benefit newsletter that includes a rundown of everything you need to know from the college access and success field for the week). These reports tend to follow a regular schedule, although new reports and supplements to existing ones also come out.

The NSCRC uses the enormous amount of student-level data available in the Clearinghouse to write reports about trends in student enrollment, persistence, retention, and completion. (Many NCAN members will find the StudentTracker for Outreach fee structure quite reasonable for the utility it provides to programs their size. Other NCAN members – especially those largest programs – can enjoy a discount of up to 50 percent to access and use NSC's StudentTracker and its vast wealth of data to analyze their students’ postsecondary enrollment and completion patterns – and potentially identify areas where their program could improve.) Given how often NCAN refers our members to these data, it is valuable to provide a rundown of which reports are available and what they include.

The NSCRC’s reports are of particular value to the college access and success field for benchmarking purposes. The NSCRC’s data tend to be timelier than the longitudinal surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and more national in scope than data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Members can use data from the NSCRC’s reports to get a better sense of postsecondary outcomes at the national (and sometimes state) level. Members often rely on data like these for background information during grant applications and for comparisons to their own outcomes.

Signature Reports

“Completing College” is an annual report, usually released in the fall, that examines six-year postsecondary completion rates. The NSCRC released the fifth edition of this report in December, and it examined the outcomes of students who started postsecondary education in fall 2010. In the spring following each report’s release, NSCRC publishes a state-level view of student attainment rates for the corresponding entering class. To date, NSCRC has published reports on the entering classes of 2006 through 2010. These reports break out data by institution type and control and student age, enrollment intensity, gender, and completion at initial or a different institution. Notably, the data are not broken out by student income level or race/ethnicity, so it is difficult to examine equity gaps with these reports. Notably, the data are also now broken out by student income level or race/ethnicity, thanks to a spring 2017 disaggregation. Moving forward, they will be included in the national report each fall. NCAN uses the “Completing College” report for a completion comparison in our annual Benchmarking Report.

Other signature reports focuses on students’ time to bachelor’s and associate’s degrees as well as transfer and mobility patterns. This latter report series (of which there are two editions), effectively makes the case that the “new normal” in college-going is for students to move between institutions, often across state lines. Other Signature Reports have focused on the outcomes of students who move from two-year to four-year institutions and the outcomes of students who “reverse transfer” from four-year to two-year institutions.

High School Benchmarks

This NSCRC report series examines the enrollment, persistence, and completion rates of high school graduates from a number of graduating classes. Readers who are looking specifically for enrollment outcomes from a given class should use the N-1 trick. Whatever the year is in the title of the report (which is the year the report was released), the class’s enrollment rates considered by the report is N-1. For example, the 2016 High School Benchmarks Report examines the enrollment outcomes of the Class of 2015 in the first fall following high school graduation. This is not the high school class exclusively considered by the report, however, as others appear for persistence and completion rate analyses. Enrollment rates are broken out by high school types in these reports along three categories: high-income or low-income; high-minority or low-minority; and rural, suburban, or urban. These reports also cover first- to second-year persistence rates of students from these high school types. NCAN uses these in the Benchmarking Project to compare the outcomes of member-served students to their peers in high-minority and/or low-income high schools.

Snapshot Reports

Snapshot Reports, which tend to be shorter than their Signature counterparts, cover a number of different topics. Putting these topics under the same umbrella is difficult, but there is, more or less, a common thread of student enrollment patterns running between them. These reports include topics like “Certificate and Associate Degree Pathways, 2009-10,” which maps the continued postsecondary progress of students who first earned a certificate or associate’s before moving on to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

The Snapshot Reports also include data on student persistence and retention. The most recent report in this area covers students who started college in the fall of 2014. This report is broken out by institution type and control and student enrollment intensity. Another recurring Snapshot Report is “Yearly Success and Progress Rates,” which shows student persistence, stop-out, and completion rates at the end of each academic year. This is similar to what NCAN receives through the Benchmarking Project. The most recent report in this vein examines students who first entered postsecondary education in fall 2010.

Finally, Snapshot Reports also focus on student mobility rates, including interstate mobility rates, and the growth of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees.

Current Term Enrollment Estimates

Unlike some of the other report categories, the Current Term Enrollment Estimates are fairly uniform. NSCRC releases these reports semiannually in fall and spring, and they describe overall enrollments broken out by institution type and control. These are probably of less use for NCAN members, but they do describe enrollment trends at the macro level.

Undergraduate Degree Earners Reports

Like the Current Term Enrollment Estimates, this series will probably be of less utility for the typical NCAN member. This series, which started in March 2016, examines the total number of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees earned nationally in a given year.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has been an excellent partner for NCAN in helping to spur members’ focus on student outcomes. The StudentTracker tool is widely used by NCAN members to track their students’ enrollment, persistence, and completion. Not only is StudentTracker valuable, the NSCRC’s reports also provide critical insights into national postsecondary outcomes. This reference will be useful in helping NCAN members and non-members alike to find the resource that best fits their needs.

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