Data from the newest National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) include new details on topics such as financial literacy, alternative repayment options, student veteran and military characteristics, and study abroad participation. These data build on existing data elements, like information on financial aid and enrollment, to help answer questions about college affordability, student characteristics, and socioeconomic gaps.
These new data come from a nationally representative sample of approximately 113,000 undergraduate and graduate students attending 1,800 postsecondary institutions and are released every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
On June 12, the Postsecondary Data Collaborative (@PostsecData) hosted a #NPSAS16 Twitter chat to mark the release of these new data and explore preliminary findings. The chat featured co-hosts: NCES; Seton Hall professor Robert Kelchen; Inside Higher Ed’s Andrew Kreighbaum; Center for American Progress’ Ben Miller; and The Education Trust’s Oliver Schak. Roughly 30 scholars, researchers, and data enthusiasts chimed in with thoughtful insights.
Participants underscored the importance of high-quality postsecondary data to guide research, policy, and practice. Many emphasized the strength and quality of the NPSAS data in allowing for disaggregation by student characteristics such as race and ethnicity, income, gender, and first-generation status. Schak noted that NPSAS not only “tells us about disparities and stratification in enrollment for students of color, low-income and first-generation students,” but also “allows us to shed light on the intersectional aspects of cost, tuition, and enrollment patterns. For instance, how many Black men have unmet financial need.”
Participants also discussed the ongoing affordability challenges that were made apparent in the initial findings, as well as opportunities to leverage these data to inform policies that advance equity in student access, affordability, and completion. Disaggregated data, like the NPSAS data set, can reveal the state of racial and socioeconomic inequities in college affordability, and empower policymakers and institutional leaders to make data-informed, equity-driven decisions.
IHEP research shows that college affordability is a real barrier for many American college students, and PostsecData’s analysis of the NPSAS:16 further illustrates the depth of students’ financial challenges. The data show that the lowest income students enrolled in college must devote an amount equivalent to more than 150 percent of their family income towards college costs. Additionally, 98 percent of low-income students struggle with unmet financial need, even after grants and scholarships. NCES noted that 72 percent of all undergraduate students received some type of financial aid—38 percent received loans.
High-quality data sources, like NPSAS, play an important role in helping policymakers and institutional leaders understand the student aid landscape and develop policies that support all students, particularly underrepresented students.
While there is no shortage of interesting data to explore in NPSAS:16, participants expressed anticipation and excitement for the release of NPSAS:18-AC. This upcoming data set will include administrative data and will be released biannually between regular NPSAS surveys. It will also feature a NPSAS dataset inclusive of representative samples for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico together for the first time, supporting both national and individual state-level analyses.
As co-host Robert Kelchen noted, “No more waiting four years for fresh data!”
To read more of the discussion and to explore the interesting findings, check out the Twitter chat by searching #NPSAS16 and follow us at @PostsecData. Have other ideas for Twitter chats? Tweet them to us!