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Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

Collecting high-quality data on postsecondary education for policymakers, academic institutions, parents, students, and others


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. Now, more than ever, IPEDS data are critical to monitoring and improving equitable college opportunities and outcomes. RTI has led IPEDS for over 20 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. Currently, there are more than 6,000 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, academic libraries, and outcome measures.

A number of high-profile public tools developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—including College Navigator, the Trend Generator, the Data Explorer, and other tools within 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. technological advancement. We have worked collaboratively on IPEDS with NCES since 2000 to provide the most accurate and comprehensive database available on postsecondary institutions. Annually, we produce high-quality data files, reports, and tables. We support the institutions that provide the data and have handled over 1.5 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.

To ensure success on IPEDS, RTI teams with a variety of partners, both large and small. Partnering with small businesses allows us to be nimble as needs change and to bring expertise into the work that the team performs. As one example, a small business partner develops web applications for data dissemination, using the most cutting-edge technologies available. Another partner capitalizes on its network of postsecondary practitioners to develop and deliver high quality training for IPEDS respondents and researchers, using real-world examples.  

Over the years, we have kept IPEDS 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 publicly available.

College Navigator is used by prospective college students, their parents, high school guidance counselors, and others conducting college searches. College Scorecard 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 or program earn after graduation and how well they are able to repay their loans.

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 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 several indicators based on IPEDS data. The Trend Generator provides users with quick access to frequently used IPEDS data on key postsecondary trends. The Data Explorer includes a growing library of thousands of tables from IPEDS and other NCES postsecondary publications. Additionally, IPEDS forms the institutional sampling frame for several other national NCES postsecondary surveys.

As the nation grapples with increasing college costs and student loan debt, unbiased data can help us understand these issues. 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 integral source of this fundamental data.