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We discuss the metrics used in the National Student Clearinghouse’s Postsecondary Data Partnership dashboards.

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In this tutorial, we discuss the metrics used in the National Student Clearinghouse’s Postsecondary Data Partnership dashboards. ​

When higher education professionals talk about successful institutions, they usually speak in terms of metrics like fall-to-fall retention and completion rates.​

But why do we focus on those metrics?  Some institutions are funded, in part, based on their performance on those metrics. Institutions who retain a higher percentage of first-time students or have a higher percentage of students complete a credential, may be funded at higher levels compared to institutions with lower retention or completion rates.​

Unfortunately, it can take several months, to years, to know if retention or completion rates are changing.​

Metrics that take a long time to measure are called “lagging” indicators.  Lagging indicators measures the students’ and institution’s past performance. While metrics like retention and completion are good measures of institutional health, impacting these directly are challenging.​

Instead of asking, “are students completing a credential?” to make improvements we should ask, “which students are not making adequate progress to completion?”​

To be more helpful to our students and to identify students at risk, we need to monitor metrics which have a shorter time frame.  Metrics with short timeframes that predict future success are called “leading indicators”.  If we can impact leading indicators that measure a student’s academic momentum, then we should impact their completion rates.​

The Postsecondary Data Partnership’s key performance indicators can be grouped into three areas:​

  • First is Enrollment which is a measure of access.​
  • The second set of key performance indicators, which are leading indicators, measure early academic momentum. These metrics are credit accumulation rate, credit completion ratio, and gateway course completion.​
  • And the third set of key performance indicators are outcomes over time which are lagging indicators. These include metrics like completions, retention/persistence, transfer, and time to credential.​

Each key performance indicator defined in the Postsecondary Data Partnership is measured by its own easy-to-use dashboard.​

Before we discuss these dashboards, let’s define student cohorts. For all PDP dashboards, student cohorts are comprised of all new students who enrolled in the institution for that cohort year. Unlike some other data collection models, the PDP cohort includes both first-time ever in college students ​and students who have newly transferred-in. ​

In addition, student cohorts include any student who enrolled at the institution regardless of the term they started or their enrollment status. This allows a more complex and nuanced understanding of your first-year students, not just your fall-entering, first-time-in-college, full-time students.​

This definition of first-year student may differ from your institution’s definition; please ask your PDP administrator if you have questions about your institution’s definition.​

​Now, let’s introduce each dashboard and its key performance indicator.​

The first metric is enrollment.  This dashboard reports the 12-month enrollment counts and key characteristics for first-time and transfer-in students newly enrolling at the institution by cohort year.  This dashboard can be used to understand institutional context like student characteristics, level of academic preparation, and access.  ​

It can answer questions like:​

  • What percentage of our first-time students attend college part-time?​
  • What percentage of the first-year cohort are students of color?​

The Credit Accumulation Rate is one of the PDP early momentum metrics. This dashboard reports the number of students who were successful at completing enough credits for satisfactory academic progress. It also helps clarify which students are (or are not) gaining academic momentum early in their college career.  Understanding which students are lagging in momentum will help determine the students who need additional support. ​

It can answer questions like:​

  • What percentage of full-time, first-generation students accumulate sufficient credit in their first year?​
  • And what is the achievement gap in credit accumulation between students who are prepared for college-level math and those who are not?​


Credit Completion Ratio is another early momentum metric. This dashboard reports how successful students are at completing the credits they attempt within their first year of college.  Why is this important?  Studies show that higher first-year credit completion ratios are linked with higher credential completion rates.  This metric helps identify student populations in need of early intervention. ​

This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • What is the average number of credits earned for new transfer-in students during their first year at our institution?​
  • And are students maintaining academic momentum into their second year of college?​

The final early momentum metric is Gateway Course Completion.  This dashboard reports the number of students who successfully completed their required math and English gateway courses in their first year of enrollment at the institution.​

Students who complete all required gateway courses prior to enrolling at the institution are not represented in this dashboard.​

This dashboard can answer questions like: ​

  • Are high academically achieving students more, or less, likely to complete their required gateway courses in their first year compared to other students?​
  • And are students who are prepared to take college-level math more likely to complete their required math gateway courses in their first year of enrollment compared to other students?​

The Outcomes dashboard reports the completion rates and other outcomes for students by cohort year. Outcomes include those who earned a certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or are still enrolled in college. ​It also reports students who were retained or completed at your institution and those students who started at your institutions but transferred to another institution. ​

This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • Has the proportion of students earning a credential improved over time?​
  • And what is the achievement gap between men and women earning a credential?​

The Retention and Persistence dashboard reports the first- to second-year retention and persistence rates for students who attended our institution.  ​

There are three possible outcomes. In their second year after enrolling at the institution, the student can remain at the institution or have completed a credential, they could have transferred to another institution, or they could have left college before completing a credential.​​

​​This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • What is the difference in retention/persistence rates for first-generation students compared to those whose parents/guardians completed college?​
  • And are students who begin college in the summer more, or less, likely to retain/persist than students who begin college in the fall?​
  • What is the difference between retention and persistence? ​

Retention describes how many students are still enrolled (or who have earned a credential) from our institution before the end of their second academic year.  This is a measure of how well our institution retains our students.​

Persistence describes how many students are still enrolled in their second academic year (or completed a credential) at another institution.  ​ ​

This definition may differ from how your institution defines persistence so please check with your institution’s PDP administrator if you have questions on how your institution defines persistence.​

The PDP has a second dashboard devoted to retention/persistence rates called the “Retention and Persistence Term-to-Term dashboard”.  This dashboard reports the retention and persistence rates for student cohorts after each term during their first two academic years for up to eight consecutive terms. ​

These data may reveal stop-out behavior during a student’s first two academic years. Stop-out is when a student does not enroll in one term but re-enrolls at a later term. ​

This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • What percentage of first-time students enroll for the subsequent term? ​
  • And are full-time students more likely to retain/persist to the next term compared to part-time students? What is the retention/persistence gap?​ ​

The Transfer dashboard contains a wealth of information like: ​

  • institutional transfer-out rates for up to eight years after a student’s first enrollment at our institution, ​
  • the percent of transfer-out students who earned a credential prior to transferring, ​
  • The type of institution to which students transferred,​
  • And the credential earned by those students after they transferred.​

This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • What proportion of transfer-out students earned a credential at our institution prior to transferring? Has that proportion changed over time?​
  • And what percentage of transfer-out students earn a credential after transferring?​

The Time to Credential and Credentials Conferred dashboard reports two metrics:​​​

  • First, is the average time it took a student to complete their credential​​​
  • And second, this dashboard reports the number and proportion of credentials awarded by our institution within an academic year disaggregated by the type of credential​​​.

This dashboard can be used to answer questions like:​

  • On average, how long does it take a student to earn a credential?
  •  ​

  • And do transfer-in students take longer to complete a credential than first-time students?​

In addition to the key performance indicators that we discussed, there are several variables that are used within each dashboard as filters or dimensions. We will discuss more about how and why  filters and dimensions are used in another tutorial.​ ​

First is “Cohort Term” which is the term that the student first enrolled at your institution in at least one course. ​

Next is “Credential Type Sought” which is the credential the student is seeking in the first term of their first academic year. ​

“Enrollment Type” distinguishes between First-time in College or Transfer-in students.​

“Attendance” full-time or part-time ​

Next is “Dual/Summer Enrollment”. Dual enrollment describes whether a student was a prior dual or concurrent high school enrolled student prior to their first term enrolled with credential-seeking status. And “Summer Enrollment” indicates whether the student enrolled in summer work prior to their first term of enrollment with credential-seeking status. ​

Age Group categories the students’ age. ​

Race/Ethnicity and Gender provide demographic information about the student.​

“Pell Grant Recipient” indicates whether the student is a recipient of a Pell Grant in any term within their first academic year. ​

First Generation indicates whether a student is the first member of their immediate family to attend college.​

GPA Range categorizes the student’s cumulative GPA earned for all terms in the first academic year.​

And the last two are “Math Prep” and “English Prep”. These indicate whether the student is prepared to take college-level math and/or English courses upon entry into the institution.​

To learn more about the PDP metrics, please visit the National Student Clearinghouse website and download the data dictionary. Thank you for joining us.​

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