IHEP released a new PostsecData fact-sheet this week, explaining how the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) measures student outcomes at colleges and universities across the country, and how those metrics have changed over time. The three-page explainer provides background for the Graduation Rates (GR), Graduation Rates 200 (GR200), and Outcome Measures (OM) survey components in IPEDS, comparing their respective features, including cohort specifications, time horizons, and disaggregates (see the screenshot of Table 1 from the explainer below).
The GR survey measures completion among a cohort of first-time, full-time undergraduate students at their first institution, at 100 percent and 150 percent of the normal length of time expected to complete their intended credential (e.g., four and six years for a four-year bachelor’s degree). The GR200 survey adds a collection for 200 percent of the normal program time (e.g., eight years for a four-year bachelor’s). Unfortunately, these official graduation rates exclude students who attend college part-time or transfer out of the institution where they first enrolled, limiting the data to only about 47 percent of new undergraduates each fall.
The newer OM survey, first implemented for the 2015–16 collection year, includes more students than GR/GR200. It measures the highest credential that any student earns from an institution within six or eight years, regardless of their attendance pattern or the specific credential they initially sought. However, the OM survey does not disaggregate by race/ethnicity or gender in the way that the GR and GR200 components do, limiting how researchers and policymakers can use the data to explore equity and student outcomes.
The National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) continues to improve these valuable surveys, with feedback from higher education experts. For example, in the 2016–17 collection year, they added new Pell Grant and federal student loan receipt disaggregates to the GR survey to serve as proxies for economic status. These metrics will help us more closely examine how graduation rates differ between low-income students and their wealthier peers. A similar disaggregate will appear in the OM survey for the 2017–18 collection year, alongside an additional four-year benchmark and better distinctions between the types of credentials students earn.
PostsecData is very excited to see NCES make these upgrades to IPEDS, painting the most inclusive picture yet of student outcomes nationwide. These data are crucial to good policymaking at the state and federal levels, they help institutions benchmark their own effectiveness in helping students earn a postsecondary credential, and they allow students to make wise choices about where to enroll.
While the addition of the OM survey and completion rates for Pell grant and federal loan recipients in IPEDS constitute substantial improvements to federal postsecondary outcome metrics, we still cannot answer crucial questions about what happens to students after they transfer, including the types of institutions they transfer to or whether they eventually earn any postsecondary credentials. Only a student-level data network could bring us closer to answering those questions. Until those reforms are in place, however, these IPEDS metrics will continue to provide the most comprehensive information on postsecondary outcomes available to the public.