The Missing Manual: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data to Track Postsecondary Outcomes

This paper explores the promises and pitfalls of using National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data to measure a variety of postsecondary outcomes. We first describe the history of the NSC, the basic structure of its data, and recent research interest in using NSC data. Second, using information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, we calculate enrollment coverage rates for NSC data over time, by state, institution type, and demographic student subgroups. We find that coverage is highest among public institutions and lowest (but growing) among for-profit colleges. Across students, enrollment coverage is lower for minorities but similar for males and females. We also explore two potentially less salient sources of non-coverage: suppressed student records due to privacy laws and matching errors due to typographic inaccuracies in student names. To illustrate how this collection of measurement errors may affect estimates of the levels and gaps in postsecondary attendance and persistence, we perform several case-study analyses using administrative transcript data from Michigan public colleges. We close with a discussion of practical issues for program evaluators using NSC data.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grants R305B110001 and R305E100008 to the University of Michigan, as well as through Grant R305C110011-11A to the Teachers College, Columbia University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute of Education Sciences or the U.S. Department of Education. We are grateful for the help of our partners at the Michigan Education Department: Tom Howell, Vanessa Keesler, and Joseph Martineau, as well as exceedingly helpful support from state analysts including Rod Bernosky, Melissa Bisson, and Karen Conroy. We had several very helpful conversations with Jason DeWitt and Travis Maciejewski at the National Student Clearinghouse. We also thank Hassan Enayati, Joanna Frye, Emily House, and Chris Zbrozek for providing excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Education Policy Initiative.