NSC Data Are Fundamental to Improving Postsecondary Student Outcomes

October 17, 2018

By Elizabeth Morgan, Director of External Relations

The National Student Clearinghouse, fondly known in the college access and success field as NSC, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Founded in 1993 by the higher education community, NSC collects higher education enrollment status information for virtually all U.S. postsecondary students and provides those data to users who are authorized to have them, such as student loan providers.

Although originally intended to relieve an administrative burden on colleges and universities, NSC has also become a unique national data source to better understand students’ postsecondary pathways and outcomes. NSC now has 3,600 participating higher education institutions that serve 98 percent of U.S. postsecondary students. In addition, 11,000 high schools subscribe to NSC data services that report where their students attend college and whether they graduate. These high schools serve 60 percent of U.S. high school students.   

NCAN has long encouraged college access and success programs as well as high schools to use NSC data regularly. In the early 2000s, this meant entering each student by hand into an online lookup interface, but in 2008, NSC introduced batch uploads and downloads using spreadsheets. Today, NCAN members use NSC information to understand whether their students are succeeding in college, determine which institutions serve students well, identify “stopped out” students in need of intervention, and demonstrate effectiveness to funders.

NCAN uses aggregated NSC data in our Benchmarking Project to show that low-income students served by our members are significantly more likely than their peers to enroll in and complete postsecondary education.

"The field of college access and success would not be as effective as we are today without NSC data," said NCAN Executive Director Kim Cook. "When nonprofits or high schools study the actual postsecondary outcomes of their students, they are able to develop targeted strategies for improvement and measure their effect in almost real time. The data are often sobering, but they also motivate us to do better for students, and we have seen many organizations move the needle toward equity for students traditionally underrepresented in higher education."

You can visit NSC's StudentTracker website for more information.   

To honor NSC’s 25th anniversary, we asked a few of NCAN’s 400-plus member organizations to tell us in their own words what NSC means to them.

"The National Student Clearinghouse has allowed us to readily pull enrollment and degree attainment data for all students we support, even those that we lose contact with but who continue to persist in college. NSC allows us to receive student-level data in a standard format as they progress in colleges across the country. This accessibility is crucial to our reporting needs, especially with a small data team reporting on a diverse student pool at all types of colleges and universities."

–Avalon Baldwin, 10,000 Degrees (San Rafael, CA)

"Without the National Student Clearinghouse and the student data it collects and reports, we wouldn’t have a clear idea of where our students are and how they are doing. NSC is essential to our college success work, and we are so grateful for the work NSC does!"

–Tina Fernandez, Achieve Atlanta

"The National Student Clearinghouse plays a crucial role in Bottom Line’s ability to report on student outcomes. Our model of one-to-one advising allows us to gather a large and varied set of important data on our students throughout the year that align to progressive milestones that support college graduation and career success. NSC enables us to confirm important student outcomes such as enrollment, successful degree completion, and graduation timeline for our active students and continue to have insight into the group of students with whom we’ve lost touch. Having accurate enrollment and graduation data on our full student population leads to better planning and evaluation in every aspect of our programs – influencing everything from student support approaches to staffing models. Additionally, as an organization committed to rigorous evaluation and tested impact, NSC is an essential component of the randomized control trial (RCT) being conducted on Bottom Line by Andrew Barr (Texas A&M) and Ben Castleman (UVA), which will produce a quantified assessment of our model’s unique impact on college graduation outcomes."

–Steve Colón, Bottom Line (Boston)

"The National Student Clearinghouse plays a critical role in supporting the work of college access and success across the country. The StudentTracker service provides the only comprehensive way that high schools and community-based college access and success organizations can track the post-secondary outcomes of their students across higher ed institutions. Having timely access to these data is critical not only for measuring student outcomes and assessing the effectiveness of programs, but also for providing real-time supports for individual students on their journey to a college degree."

–Tim Herron, Degrees of Change (Tacoma, WA)

"The National Student Clearinghouse have provided us with a real gift—the ability to track the progress of the students we serve. Tracking student enrollment, persistence and completion of has allowed Woodward Hines Education Foundation’s Get2College program to better understand the impact of our work and to identify ways we can make our work more impactful through meaningful assessment. As an organization, we pride ourselves on using data to inform our decisions, and that would not be possible without the support and guidance of NCAN and NSC."

–Stacy Sneed, Get2College (Jackson, MS)

"In the nonprofit sector, generally and specifically in college access, we have relied far too long on measuring the outputs of our programs and efforts. With the National Student Clearinghouse, we are able to demonstrate outcomes and determine if our services impact college enrollment and completion. Ultimately, NSC enables us to improve effectiveness and remain accountable to our families, funders, and other key stakeholders. Thank you!"

–Meredith Gutierrez, I Know I Can (Columbus, OH)

"Thanks to the great work of the National Student Clearinghouse, we don’t determine college-going rates anymore by the number of high school transcripts mailed. Real students, real numbers, real data, and real outcomes! Congratulations to the work of NSC."

–MorraLee Keller, NCAN

"Thanks to the National Student Clearinghouse, we were able to help thousands of high schools get a clearer picture of how their alumni progressed to and through college. Without this information, many schools relied solely on a self-reported snapshot via a senior exit survey, while others literally had no insight into their graduates' accomplishments. Completing the feedback loop gave high schools great insights to help celebrate strengths and address weaknesses to improve success for all students."

–Stephen Smith, Naviance Co-Founder

Tweet: Dynamic Duo Helps Detroit Students Get Degrees: https://ctt.ac/rz405+ via @collegeaccess

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