In analyzing the proportion of students who received or applied for financial aid, it is important to choose an appropriate measure of total enrollment as the denominator.
Fall term enrollment offers a snapshot of total enrollment at a particular moment in time and is useful in comparing enrollment at different institutions, particularly traditional four-year colleges. Notably, however, some students begin enrollment during other terms, including the summer, and are still eligible for financial aid. Fall term enrollment, therefore, undercounts the actual total enrollment that is eligible for federal aid and may misrepresent the number of students at nontraditional (particularly open-enrollment) schools.
12-month enrollment is the unduplicated total count of all undergraduates enrolled at any time during a full year. This includes all those enrolled in the fall term, plus all those who started in the spring or any subsequent term, including summer school sessions. For example, for 2013-14 the ratio of 12-month totals to fall enrollments averages about 120% at public and nonprofit four-year colleges and 150% at public two-year colleges. Since federal financial aid applications may be filed for any term, 12-month enrollment is the appropriate undergraduate enrollment denominator for the percentage of Pell Grants and aid applications. Institutions report 12-month enrollment on both the FISAP and IPEDS; where the two figures are inconsistent, the data should be used with caution.
The FISAP and IPEDS enrollment figures generally include only those students who are enrolled in courses that aim toward an undergraduate degree or certificate. Pell Grants and some other aid programs are available to these credit students even if they are only taking one course. However, the size of the award is reduced, and the student may be uncertain about his plans to continue, reducing the likelihood that he will take the time to complete a financial aid application. Therefore, caution should be used in comparing institutions that serve large numbers of part-time students (such as community colleges) with institutions that do not.
FTE enrollment is a measure of the instructional activity of a college and may be an appropriate figure to use in conjunction with measures of instructional resources, such as funding, facilities, or faculty and staff. It is also used as a way to compare the size of colleges in terms of the “instructional load” they are taking on. FTE enrollment is estimated on College InSight as full-time students plus about 30% to 40% of part-time students. (See the codebook for details.) Other sources may calculate FTE enrollment based on the number of courses or credits students are enrolled in for a given term.
The cost of attendance variables are reported differently by colleges with traditional calendar schedules (academic year reporters) than by college with continuous enrollment (program year reporters). The cost of attendance figures for academic year reporters cover the full academic year, while those for program year reporters cover the length of the largest program. To find out which program was the largest, refer to the “CIP code of largest program” variable.
Due to inconsistent program lengths, aggregated figures for the cost of attendance variables do not include program year reporters. Additionally, the aggregated figures for the cost of attendance variables do not take into account the percentage of students who are out-of-state. Most public colleges charge lower tuition and fees for students who are in-state.