These datasets have several positive attributes. Samples attempt to represent all students in U.S. higher education; longitudinal follow-ups track attainment across institutions, sectors, state lines; and students entering with different levels of preparation can be distinguished. They also present a number of challenges. National surveys are, by design, not useful as state- or institution-level resources; surveys are administered infrequently; and surveys are costly to implement and to scale up.
National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) conducts surveys on sciences and engineering graduate and postgraduate students.13 Information is collected on type of degree, degree field, and graduation date. Data items collected in NSF surveys are more attuned toward understanding the demographic characteristics, source of financial support and posteducation employment situation of graduates from particular fields of science, health, and engineering. These data are useful in understanding trends in salaries of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates.
NSF surveys concentrate on degree holders only. The sampling frame does not include individuals who have not graduated from a higher educational institution. There is no information on credits completed by degree and nondegree holders. Although the sampling frame is limited for purposes of calculating institutional productivity for undergraduate programs, it does collect information on post-bachelor degree holders, postdoctoral appointees, and doctorate-holding nonfaculty researchers. Sampling techniques and data items collected also make the NSF data useful for calculating department level (within STEM fields) output in terms of research and academic opportunities available to graduates.
The NSF survey of academic R&D expenditures is valuable to federal, state, and academic planners for assessing trends in and setting priorities for R&D expenditures across fields of science and engineering, though it is not directly related to instructional productivity.14 It has potential for indirect use in estimating the volume of research expenditure, by discipline, at different institutions in order to better untangle joint products. In contrast, IPEDS provides only aggregate research expenditure, with no disciplinary detail. This NSF survey may be the only national source for this limited purpose.