New reports detail the experience of first-time college students

The National Center for Education Statistics has released a series of reports analyzing the experience of students who are attending post secondary institutions for the first time.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC—The National Center for Education Statistics has released a series of reports analyzing the experience of students who are attending postsecondary institutions for the first time.

RTI International researchers authored the four reports for the 2012/14 Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative, longitudinal sample survey of about 24,800 students who began postsecondary education for the first time during the 2011–2012 academic year. The BPS longitudinal study surveys students at the outset of their postsecondary study, and at years 3 and 6. The study is unique in its ability to follow students throughout their postsecondary education. Specifically, it captures data on all schools attended and subsequent labor market outcomes after 3 years, even for students who transfer from their first institution or who drop out altogether.

The reports provide a wide range of data on students’ first 3 years of college including retention, persistence, early attainment, withdrawal, periods of non-enrollment and transfer rates. Statistics are reported separately for personal characteristics like age, race/ethnicity and first-generation status, and, unlike previous administrations of the survey, this current survey provides greater detail on financial aid use and student-reported satisfaction.

Highlights from the reports include the following:

  • Students who delayed college enrollment by more than a year were more likely to leave their first institution without enrolling in a new institution; 43 percent versus 23 percent of those who enrolled in college within a year of high school completion.
  • The percentage of students who were the first in their immediate family to attend college varies widely by institution type, from 9% of students at private, nonprofit, 4-year schools, compared to 32% of students who first enrolled in a for-profit institution.
  • Thirty-five percent of students at for-profit 2-year institutions had not earned a credential and were not enrolled by spring 2014, compared to 50 percent at for-profit 4-year institutions.

“These data are valuable to researchers, administrators and policymakers because they can address questions on the impact of higher education nationwide on first-time students of all ages,” said Alexandria Walton Radford, PhD, a senior education research analyst at RTI. “For instance, administrators can leverage these data to assess how their institution compares to national averages, and policymakers can examine whether the right plans are in place to promote completion of educational programs.”

Future research using these data can shed light on how well interim measures of progress for students predict their completion and subsequent entry into the labor market.

“Generally, we know that higher education leads to better economic outcomes," Radford continued. "By focusing on first-time students, BPS data allow us to more directly tease out factors or characteristics that lead to greater or lesser success in college and the workforce."

The next follow-up interview with these students will take place in 2017 and provide updates on students’ degree attainment and subsequent employment outcomes. Student transcripts from all institutions attended and details on student borrowing and debt will also be collected in future years.

To learn more, take a look at the First-Time Postsecondary Students in 2011–12 report series: 

To learn more about RTI’s capabilities and postsecondary education work, visit RTI’s website