Groundbreaking data from College and Beyond II help researchers examine diverse college experiences

January 10, 2023

Researchers have known for decades that attending college is associated with wide-ranging benefits to individuals and society. What is not entirely clear are the mechanisms that connect these beneficial outcomes with the undergraduate experience. For instance, how much do the courses students take matter to these outcomes? What about the peers they interact with? The activities they participate in?  

To answer questions like this, researchers at the University of Michigan have been assembling a massive amount of data that will help researchers examine undergraduate education. The project, College and Beyond II (CBII), is supported by $4.27 million in funding from the Mellon Foundation and is led by the Ford School's Paul Courant (founding PI) and Kevin Stange (co-PI), and Allyson Flaster (current PI), Susan Jekielek (co-PI), Tim McKay (co-PI), and Margaret Levenstein (co-PI), whose interdisciplinary leadership provides expertise in economics, education, physics, public policy, sociology, and information science.

“College and Beyond II is more than just a collection of datasets – on the project team we call it a data infrastructure because it incorporates a huge amount of linkable education data from a variety of sources that haven’t been brought together before for sharing with the research community, said Flaster, the project’s current Principal Investigator and Assistant Research Scientist. “The goal is to create a multi-use, de-identified data resource that researchers from various disciplines can use to examine how undergraduate education works, and how it can be improved.” 

Institutions provided CBII detailed student-level administrative data, including courses taken, grades, majors, demographics, and admissions information, from undergraduates enrolled from approximately 2000 to 2021. Institutions participating in CBII span the U.S. and are all public, four-year colleges and universities. They include Georgia College and State University, Indiana University-Bloomington, Truman State University, University of California-Irvine, University of Houston, University of Michigan, and the baccalaureate institutions in the City University of New York system. Eleven are minority-serving institutions (MSIs), making CBII one of the largest sources of data available to researchers on the educational experiences of undergraduate students of color.

In summer 2022, CBII released its first two datasets: administrative data containing over 1 million student records with almost 50 million course enrollments, and survey data for a subsample of individuals who graduated in 2010, collected in 2021. The survey data is novel because it measures a wealth of life outcomes well after college completion. 

“College and Beyond II will enable scholars and policymakers to combine institutional data with survey data in ways that will allow us to explore the connection between undergraduate education and student outcomes ten years after college completion,” said Courant, the project’s founder and former Provost at U-M. “These outcomes include important behaviors and mindsets such as democratic and civic engagement, openness to diversity, psychological well-being, and career adaptability.”

Selected researchers spent late 2021 and early 2022 using preliminary versions of the data, testing its ability to answer important educational research questions. One of those researchers, Richard Arum, Professor of Sociology and Education at the University of California Irvine noted, “The release of this data comes at an ideal time, when institutions are embracing data-driven approaches to identify value in undergraduate education and to identify mechanisms to improve performance and advance educational equity.” 

In December 2022, the project released the final five datasets in the CBII series, making the full data infrastructure complete and ready for researcher use. These newly released datasets provide information about the Advanced Placement coursework students took prior to college, the content covered in students’ courses, students’ educational enrollment and attainment through graduate school, qualitative data on graduates’ perceptions of their most impactful college experiences, and a set of student experience analytics that capture various aspects of undergraduate education, such as measures of curricular breadth, student-to-faculty ratios, and peer diversity. CBII also includes data about postsecondary institutions from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and neighborhoods from the National Neighborhood Data Archive (NaNDA) to help researchers contextualize students’ educational backgrounds and experiences.

“The College and Beyond II data will enable transformational research that will improve our understanding of the diverse impacts of the college experience,” said CBII co-PI and ICPSR Director Maggie Levenstein. “We are excited to see what institutional leaders and policy makers learn from the research done with this data.”

CBII data are accessible via a virtual enclave at ICPSR. Researchers can apply to use data from the CBII Series here

For more information: 

The College and Beyond II Project