Celebrating Success: 2024 federal funding bill keeps National Postsecondary Student Aid Study data collection intact

Published Mar 21, 2024

By: Taylor Myers and Jessica Vivar 

Data quality advocates just scored a victory for evidence-driven policymaking in higher education. The fiscal year 2024 federal funding bill released today includes language directing the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) housed at the U.S. Department of Education to maintain the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) at its current collection frequency of every four years. This comes after the Biden-Harris administration last week released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 and included a proposal that considered shifting the NPSAS full-scale study, including detailed student surveys and administrative data collection, from every four years to every six years. The proposed change in frequency threatened to weaken our understanding of student experiences in higher education.  

NPSAS is the most comprehensive nationally representative study measuring how students and their families pay for college, as well as students’ characteristics and other aspects of their postsecondary experience. The data can be broken out by a range of student characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, dependency, care-giving status, and financial background. These NPSAS data allow researchers and policymakers to answer questions including: How easily can students with the lowest incomes and students from specific race and ethnic groups afford college? How does enrollment by institutional sector vary by race, ethnicity, and income?  

The latest federal funding bill also directs IES to maintain the current collection frequency for NPSAS administrative data of every two years, instead of every three years as proposed in Department of Education’s 2025 budget request for IES. The NPSAS administrative data collection gathers institutional information, such as enrollment records and financial aid disbursements, to complement survey data and provide a comprehensive understanding of student financial aid patterns and enrollment trends. Maintaining the current frequency of the full NPSAS survey and administrative data collection reflects policymakers’ commitment to better understanding student experiences and how policy changes affect student behavior.  

This achievement would not have been possible without the collective efforts of advocates, researchers, and federal policymakers and appropriators who recognize the importance of robust data in shaping higher education policy. In recent years, IES has cited resource limitations for proposed revisions to the data collection frequency of NPSAS and for discontinuing the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B), which provided insights about what happens to students after they graduate. In December 2023, IHEP led a coalition of nearly 50 organizations and researchers urging the Department of Education to protect and preserve these critical postsecondary sample studies. We are grateful appropriators listened to the field and appreciate their commitment to ensuring NPSAS stays intact. We are also grateful appropriators included language emphasizing the importance of continued collaboration between NCES and the research community in shaping future decisions regarding the NPSAS collection schedule. 

Looking ahead, we remain committed to protecting and preserving NPSAS and other postsecondary sample studies administered by IES. Comprehensive data collection can strengthen the evidence base used to inform policies and practices that support college access, affordability, and success for all students.