In these early days of 2018, we see the outlines of significant developments for higher education. A revised federal tax system and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) represent a likely sea change for how higher education is funded, managed, organized, and regulated. Not to be ignored, however, are recent, and long over-due, revisions to the Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the core higher education data collection system.

To date, schools have been virtually flying blind in their attempt to understand the behaviors of students other than the classic “first-time, full-time” undergraduate. While the National Student Clearinghouse provides data at the sector level, and IPEDs provides graduation rates for “traditional” students, no source has offered outcomes data on adult learners or others.

After collecting and reviewing months of public comments, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has created a new section in IPEDS called Outcomes Measures, making it possible to monitor the patterns of how students enroll, dropout, transfer, and hopefully return to graduate. This new section includes:

  • An expanded enrollment counting period. In order to more accurately reflect the enrollment patterns of most students, schools will count enrollment between July 1 and June 30, rather than only in the fall. This is designed to more precisely reflect year-round enrollment patterns and will affect 4,100 degree-granting, academic reporting schools.
  • Insight into key cohorts. In an effort to measure enrollment patterns of transfer and part-time students, schools will track eight distinct cohorts, including Pell and non-Pell grant recipients, based on how they actually enroll. Cohorts are divided by prior college experience and whether students are attending full-time or part-time. It is worth noting that these cohorts may be a bit complicated, but so too are the ways in which many adult learners attend school and attempt to juggle the demands of life and work.
  • The highest award conferred upon a student. Previously, schools reported the first award a student may have earned. The new measure will include any certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree, whether conferred four, six, or eight years since initial enrollment. This change is designed to capture any evidence of success by part-time or transfer students, especially those who may have started their education at a two-year institution.

While efforts to improve retention rates among adult learners vary widely, there has been a more common understanding that the patterns of enrollment and dropout behaviors of working adults are deeply rooted and hard to reverse. Now schools can benefit from more transparency into the start and stop behaviors of these students. Armed with more data, it’s expected that schools can more efficiently focus their efforts on helping returning students transition into, and perhaps out of, schools when the pressures of life intervene.

Taking Outcome Measures for a Test Drive

Using data from the new Outcomes Measures, an analysis of how these cohorts have performed provides a glimpse into how the revised IPEDS may be used. Below, we compare the completion rates for three cohort categories over six years; notably this view focuses on students who are not traditional, first-time, full-time undergraduates.

Not surprisingly, students returning to school full-time are more likely to be successful. Part-time students, whether first time or returning to school, fare far worse across all sectors. Writ large, these patterns are important. By better tracking and comparing how their own cohorts of returning students perform, schools may be able to anticipate potential roadblocks, rather than simply report them in hindsight.

A brief foray into the Outcome Measures data can also reveal some potentially promising examples of schools that have had success with returning full time and part time students. Data from three distinct schools suggests that that there is a broad range of strategies and best practices for supporting returning students.

  • Fort Hays State University, a public four-year institution in Kansas, reports an 81% award rate over six years among more than 1,000 part-time, returning students.
  • The University of the Redlands, a private four-year institution in California reports a 76% award rate for several hundred returning students.
  • Full Sail University, a for-profit, four-year, Florida-based institution that emphasizes high-touch, online and blended programming, reports a 75% award rate among more than 2,000 full-time, returning students.

This data signals that these schools, and perhaps others, are successfully meeting the complex needs of returning adult learners.

Adult Learners In Context

For too long, variations in adult learner enrollment trends have either been obscured by IPEDS reporting or neglected altogether. NCES should be applauded for reversing this trend. While it’s still early days, IPEDS Outcomes Measures improves the likelihood that data collection can more accurately reflect the enrollment behaviors of a growing and increasingly diverse population of adult learners.

These concerns have also informed Eduventures’ 2017 Adult Prospect Survey, which has revealed a significant range and diversity in how adult learners make decisions about how, and in some cases whether, to continue their education. For example, when asked about what features or programs could encourage them to enter a certificate or degree program, 45% of a nationally representative sample identified receiving credit for skills they have already mastered as one of their top preferences. Coupled with data revealing the patterns of enrollment behavior among returning students, these kinds of insights will prove useful to many institutions.

The new IPEDS will eventually be integrated with the consumer facing College Navigator website. IPEDS’ first survey collection period under these new guidelines period began on December 13, and concludes in February 2018.

Eduventures’ clients are encouraged to reach out to their Client Research Analysts to begin working with this newly available IPEDS data.

Operations Research Analyst Jennifer Gray contributed to this Wake Up Call.

Attracting Adult Learners

Results from the Eduventures® Adult Prospect Survey shed light on this diverse, ever-changing market.

Wednesday, January 24 2pm EST, 1pm CST

Want to learn more about how to attract adult learners to your institution? Want help recognizing the variables and differences that impact this increasingly diverse population? Then join us for this informative webinar where Principal Analyst Howard Lurie will share insights derived from Eduventures’ Adult Prospect Survey, including the first-ever behavioral and attitudinal mindsets.

Leveraging a nationally representative panel of prospective adult undergraduate, graduate and non-degree learners, findings from this survey will help institutions better understand the adult learning market.

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