2015 Equity Indicators Has a Second Printing, Updates One of the Indicators

In February of 2015, the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Education and the Penn Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD) released the 2015 Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States at a National Press Club shared dialogue event. The report was very well received and generated an unexpectedly large number of requests for copies of the report and related articles by the popular press and academics. The co-authors, Margaret Cahalan, of the Pell Institute, and Laura Perna, of AHEAD at Penn GSE, took the opportunity to print another run and revise the data used for one of the Indicators — the percent of dependent students who had entered college who received a bachelor’s degree by age 24 (Indicator 5b). This indicator used Current Population Survey (CPS) Census data to observe trends between 1970 and 2013 in bachelor’s degree receipt among dependent students who had started at any college.

Some members of the academic community have questioned using the CPS data for this Indicator due to the fact that CPS represents only students who were dependent students at the time of the survey and that the distribution of percent dependent varies over time and by family income quartile. The academic critiques pointed out the fact that the US has no adequate existing national source of yearly trend information on college completion by family income, but that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) high school and college longitudinal studies provide better estimates. To address these concerns, the revised 2015 edition substitutes data from the NCES Beginning Postsecondary Study (BPS) for the most recent year available — looking at bachelor’s degree attainment rates by 2009 for those who had entered college for the first time 6 years earlier. The revised 2015 edition also includes some comparisons between the CPS data and the NCES estimates and found that the CPS tracks well with the BPS for the bottom three quartiles but overestimated completion for the very top quartile. Work has already begun for the 2016 Equity Indicators Report, which will include additional comparisons of the results from the CPS and NCES sources of data over time. However, the infrequency of the data from NCES — (for example BPS longitudinal samples are started only every 7 years) — demonstrates the need for more frequent national data collections.

The Pell Institute and PennAHEAD would like to thank again the Travelers Foundation for their financial support of this project that addresses the concerns of low-income youth’s college access and success. Without their support the 2015 Equity Indicators report and the accompanying Search for Solutions Shared Dialogues would not have been possible.