Collecting Critical Educational Data

For some required institutions, meeting compliance with the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) can seem like a daunting task, especially for staff and administrators who are going through the process for the first time. Among other requirements, data must be reconciled among departments and categories for student attendance and financial aid awards must be consistently reported.

When Starla Rhodes Nixon, a former institutional administrator at New Horizons Medical Institute, was assigned the task of reporting her school’s data to IPEDS, she sought assistance from the IPEDS Help Desk. After her conversation with the help desk, she wrote a follow-up email saying, “I just wanted to send my gratitude and appreciation for all the help that I received today, as it was my first time completing IPEDS… Thank you for providing excellent customer service and helping me to make sure that I submitted the correct information.”

Each year, more than 6,200 postsecondary institutions in the U.S. that participate in the Title-IV federal financial aid program submit data required by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). To collect and validate the quality of these data, the Department counts on RTI International (RTI) to conduct the IPEDS data collection. RTI’s long history of survey research, ability to handle complex data collection, expertise in postsecondary education, and commitment to technological advancement has made it the ideal partner to ensure the collection of accurate and timely data.

RTI has managed the collection of IPEDS data for more than 20 years, obtaining data from postsecondary educational institutions nationwide and collaborating with NCES to provide data access to colleges, universities, researchers, and associations. This includes information on student enrollment, degrees and certificates conferred, graduation rates, faculty and staff, tuition costs, financial aid, libraries and more.

NCES also uses IPEDS to create public-facing tools including College Navigator, Trend Generator, Data Explorer, and other data uses. To protect the integrity of the data available in these tools, IPEDS requires the highest standards of objectivity and accuracy.

Supporting Data Providers at Institutions and State Agencies

Critical to RTI’s management of the IPEDS data collection is its help desk, which assists reporting institutions with the submission of their data.

“A lot is at stake. If schools do not submit the required data on time, they can be fined by the office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) or even lose their eligibility to participate in federal aid programs,” points out Jamie Isaac, Senior Research Analyst at RTI and manager of the IPEDS Help Desk. “Our help desk understands this and is available to assist institutions with providing timely and accurate data to ensure compliance with the submission requirements and deadlines.”

As part of its IPEDS contractual responsibilities, RTI assists respondents in completing the 13 survey components that schools are required to submit annually. Many components require respondents to cross-reference information, which can be an obstacle to completion for those new to IPEDS.

Common questions the Help Desk receives from users include how to reconcile data required in multiple areas or how to ensure the data is consistent. The Help Desk also assists users with understanding the requirements related to reporting financial aid awards and students’ standing as full or part-time. These are only a few of the issues its team addresses.

“Our help desk associates are invested in IPEDS and have years of institutional knowledge that allows them to accurately answer users’ questions. They also understand how important it is for the institutions to provide data that are consistent between components and with prior year submissions,” Isaac explains.

Once the data are submitted, there are many ways they can be used. For example, researchers use data to identify and track trends in higher education. Colleges and universities use them to align degree and certificate programs with emerging economic needs. Policymakers rely on IPEDS to determine how they can best help students access financial aid and complete their degree programs.  Because many of the data are disaggregated by Race/Ethnicity and gender, the data can also be used to identify and address equity issues.

Does your institution need assistance with reporting the required IPEDS data? Contact the IPEDS help desk for support. And for more information about how to provide data, the data reporting schedule, and more, visit NCES’ Report-Your-Data page.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by James Isaac (Director, Education Survey Operations) and Janice Ennis Kelly-Reid (Senior Director, Center for Education Survey Research and Analysis) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.