The go-to place for student aid data

The U.S. Education Department (ED) last month released the 2015-16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) data, which is a veritable treasure trove of information.

Data pulled from the survey (which is conducted every four years) are collected from various sources, with much of information at the student-level as well as administrative records. The numbers are nationally representative of students attending Title IV-eligible colleges.

This is in contrast to data reported to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is focused on the institutional level. For anyone wanting to understand the current state of financial aid and student characteristics, NPSAS is the go-to place.

Often, ED and reports from other organizations limit the community college universe to “public two-year” institutions. NPSAS allows for a more precise characterization of community colleges. With NPSAS, student financial aid and other data pertaining to community colleges can be viewed from a lens of both public two-year and public four-year institutions that are primarily non-baccalaureate or associate degree and certificate granting.

Chock full of info

Saying that NPSAS has “everything you ever wanted to know about financial aid or students” is not hyperbole as the list of factors shows. NPSAS provides a wealth of information beyond student financial aid. Student characteristics information, for example, includes the following: age, gender, race and ethnicity, citizenship, immigration status, marital status, veteran status, language spoken at home, dependency, residence while attending school, single parent and — new in 2015-16 — risk of homelessness. There is also information on whether students have a disability and type of disability.

Another large category is finances, which has information on educational costs, credit card use and — because NPSAS includes surveying students — information about personal perspectives, including awareness of loan forgiveness or financial literacy.

This is the data set that has information on remedial course-taking, study abroad programs, family income, employment status while attending school, receipt of federal benefits such as TANF and reduced school lunch, high school GPA and whether postsecondary enrollment was delayed after graduation from high school. Student aid information includes the type of aid received (such as loans and grants), aid packages and aid sources, such as federal, state and institutional assistance.

What it says about community college students

The analysis of the NPSAS data has just began. Preliminary comparison of 2015-16 and 2011-12 data of community college students reveals that some things have changed very little or not at all, and some have changed more dramatically. Somewhat surprising is that the percent of community college students reporting that they completed the federal student aid application has not changed and remains the lowest of all sectors of higher education (62.0 percent in 2011-12 versus 61.8 percent in 2015-16 for community colleges, compared to the overall applications of 70.1 percent in 2011-12 and 70.3 percent in 2015-16).

Community college students are now majority minority (50.2 percent), with the highest growth in the percent of Latino/Hispanic students, up 5 percentage points to 24 percent, according to the data. The percent of community college students who took federal loans declined from almost one in five (19 percent) to 15 percent.

We’ll be sharing more information as we dig into the data.

About the Author

Jolanta Juszkiewicz
is director of policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.