For policymakers, academic institutions, parents, students, and others, data are crucial to making sound decisions about postsecondary education. Since the 1980s, the U.S. need for a central source of accurate, reliable, and timely information has been filled by IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. RTI has led IPEDS for more than 15 years, collecting institution-level data from primary providers of postsecondary education nationwide.
The Need for High-Quality Data from Postsecondary Schools and Institutions
Since 1992, every college, university, and technical or vocational institution in America that participates in Title IV federal financial aid programs has been mandated by law to answer the IPEDS surveys. That adds up to more than 7,500 institutions.
IPEDS relies on a system of interrelated annual surveys on enrollment, program completion, graduation rates, faculty and staff, finances, institutional prices, and student financial aid. In 2015, two new surveys focusing on academic libraries and outcome measures were included.
A number of high-profile public tools developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—including College Navigator, the Trend Generator, the College and Career Tables Library, and the Data Center—rely on IPEDS data. Key to the success of these tools as unbiased resources for students, parents, researchers, and decision-makers is the quality of the data collected, so IPEDS requires the highest standards of objectivity and accuracy.
Combining Complex Data Collection with a Commitment to Technological Advancement
RTI’s work in support of IPEDS draws on our long history of survey research, ability to handle complex data collection, expertise in postsecondary education, and commitment to technological advancement. We have worked with NCES since 2000 to provide the most comprehensive database available on postsecondary institutions.
In conjunction with our subcontractors, our work includes developing web applications for both data collection and data dissemination and training IPEDS respondents and researchers on providing and using the data. Annually, we produce high-quality data files, reports, and more than 600 tables. We support the institutions that provide the data and have handled nearly 1 million calls and e-mails to date from postsecondary institutions. Additionally, we engage members of the postsecondary community through expert technical review panels and professional conferences.
Over the years, we have kept IPEDS and College Navigator current while dealing with changing government priorities and even natural disasters, such as the displacement of students after Hurricane Katrina.
Unbiased Data to Inform Individual Decisions and Public Policy
IPEDS is an invaluable resource in describing institutional, state, and national trends in postsecondary education and in providing students and families with unbiased consumer information to assist in their college choice. A number of useful web-based tools for analyzing and viewing IPEDS data are publically available.
College Navigator is used by prospective college students, their parents, high school guidance counselors, and others conducting college searches. The redesigned College Scorecard, unveiled in fall 2015, presents data from IPEDS and other federal data sources in a way that zeroes in on financial outcomes—such as how much students from a particular school earn after graduation and how well they are able to repay their loans. The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet is a standardized form that institutions can use to notify prospective students about their financial aid package. As of spring 2015, more than 2,900 institutions had adopted the Shopping Sheet, a move encouraged by the Obama administration.
IPEDS data adds value through its use by institutions, policymakers, and researchers. The IPEDS Data Feedback Report, sent to college presidents annually, provides comparisons with similar institutions and national averages and is publicly available through the IPEDS Data Center. Researchers also use the IPEDS Data Center to download complete or custom data files and to generate pre-defined reports. The Condition of Education report, an annual report to Congress, includes 14 indicators based on IPEDS data. The Trend Generator provides users with quick access to frequently used IPEDS data on key postsecondary trends. The College and Career Tables Library includes over 5,000 tables from NCES’s postsecondary publications. IPEDS forms the institutional sampling frame for other NCES postsecondary surveys.
As the nation grapples with increasing college costs and student loan debt, unbiased data can help us understand these trends. For state and federal officials making decisions on higher education policy, families comparing financial aid packages from multiple colleges, news reporters analyzing trends in college enrollment, and many others, IPEDS is the source of this fundamental data.