Finally: IPEDS Data on Pell Recipients' Postsecondary Outcomes

October 13, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation 

For over three years, NCAN has used this blog to talk about the need for more and better data on students’ postsecondary outcomes, especially those of Pell Grant recipients. Today is finally the day that we tell you we have that data.

On Oct. 12, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced additions to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) that will greatly expand our knowledge of students’ postsecondary outcomes.

The additions come in two important pieces:

  • The IPEDS Graduate Rate (GR) Survey includes data on the outcomes of Pell Grant and subsidized Stafford Loan recipients (and non-recipients) for the class of 2010 (for four-year institutions) and the class of 2013 (for two-year institutions). As in past years with the GR survey, these data cover only first-time, full-time students, but next year’s survey will include students across attendance types.
  • Speaking of attendance types, yesterday marks the first release of the Outcome Measures (OM) survey, which considers student outcomes across four attendance cohorts: first-time, full-time; first-time, part-time; non-first-time, full-time; non-first-time, part-time. 

For more on these additions, consult this blog post by Gigi Jones, the survey director. “These changes help respond to those who feel that the [first-time, full-time] graduation rates do not reflect the larger student population, in particular public 2-year colleges that serve a larger, non-traditional college student population,” she notes.

Savvy data users can download complete data files, while the data-interested will find plenty to pore over in NCES’s First Look report.

Over the next few weeks, NCAN will be digging into these data and pulling out relevant insights for members and other stakeholders in the college access and success field. Today we bring you some topline findings to help whet your appetite for these long-awaited data. 

We start with Pell Grant recipients’ outcomes. For the class of 2010, 47.6 percent of first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students attending four-year institutions attained a bachelor’s within six years. Considering the total cohort, which includes students seeking any degree, 35.5 percent attained a bachelor’s degree while 6.8 percent earned an associate’s or certificate, bringing the total six-year completion rate to 42.3 percent. The chart below shows that Pell Grant recipients’ completion rate trails both the overall completion rate (54.5 percent) and that of non-recipients of Pell Grants and subsidized Stafford Loans (64 percent). 

NCAN members will be encouraged to learn that comparing Pell Grant recipients in the IPEDS data release to students from the class of 2010 in NCAN’s latest Benchmarking Report puts member-served students’ outcomes in a favorable light. The chart below shows that member-served students from the high school class of 2010 who enroll in four-year institutions in the year following high school complete at rates higher than both Pell Grant recipients and the overall average. Pell Grant recipients in this NCAN sample had a six-year completion rate of 58.8 percent (albeit in a relatively small sample size of over 1,600 students). Disregarding Pell Grant receipt (for which we have low levels of data coverage) and examining a sample of over 14,000 students, 58.1 percent of member-served students completed. NCAN has said repeatedly that, given the proper supports, the students served by our members can access and complete college at rates exceeding their peers and reaching national averages. This early look at the IPEDS data compared to NCAN’s Benchmarking Data suggests that we were right.

Turning our attention to the Outcome Measures survey reveals a particularly interesting trend: non-first-time students (that is, those who are transferring in or returning to postsecondary education) often complete at rates higher than their full-time, first-time peers. We see it below with two- and four-year public institutions, and among students attending four-year, private, nonprofit institutions the two groups of full-time attending students are essentially indistinguishable. This is a somewhat surprising revelation that will bear more investigation, but the early interpretation has to be the additional evidence of full-time attendance on eventual completion. Part-time enrollers’ completion rates trailed across the board regardless of first- or non-first-time attendance. Note that the Outcome Measures survey considers completions within 200 percent of time (i.e., eight years for four-year institutions, four years for two-year institutions).



This rich trove of data on students’ postsecondary outcomes is a welcome addition to our knowledge base, but it does not answer all of our questions. Third Way’s Michael Itzkowitz writes (in an excellent and comprehensive analysis) that the new data only provide “graduation rates on students who transfer into an institution, it doesn’t let us know where those students transferred from,” which puts two-year institutions that are gateways to four-year degrees at a disadvantage. Additionally, he notes, the data do not include information on the credit hours students transfer in, which makes apples-to-apples comparisons of institutions’ success with transfer students difficult to make. Finally, he notes the absence of academic program-level data, across which we suspect there is considerable variation.

Never sated, the drumbeat for improved postsecondary data plays on. Many organizations and postsecondary data advocates are supportive of the bipartisan, bicameral College Transparency Act, which would both connect existing federal data sources and forge new ones to understand better students’ experiences, needs, and outcomes. Today, however, the additions made to IPEDS Outcome Measures and Graduate Rate surveys leave us with plenty to ponder. Stay tuned.

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