Using IPEDS Data to Direct Institutional Success

​Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to eAIR@airweb.org.

Jen's IPEDS Trainers Pic.jpgThis month’s question is answered by Jennifer Dunseath, Director of Institutional Research, Rhode Island School of Design. The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting below. 

Dear Jennifer, how can I use IPEDS data on my campus to help direct institutional success?

There are a vast number of variables housed on the IPEDS website under the “Use the Data” link (formerly called the Data Center), many of which are commonly used in dashboards and benchmarking studies. A couple of valuable comparisons that are easier through the use of IPEDS data are:

(1) where your institution is now compared to where it was at some point(s) in the past, and

(2) where your institution is compared to a set of other institutions at some point(s) in time.

Using comparisons like this can demonstrate institutional progress and success.

Although the temptation might be to look at your own records, it can actually be faster to get all of your own data from IPEDS. You can choose to have the data extracted into a spreadsheet where you can format it or import it into another application, and you’ll have confidence knowing it will match what you submitted to IPEDS. You can obtain multiple years of the same variable, and you can also extract multiple variables at the same time, which will provide you with a complete set of what you need in a relatively short time.

While you are there, you can create a comparison group of institutions, or upload a group you’ve created previously and extract their data as well. You might decide to examine just the most recent year to create your comparison group average, or you might want to add a level of complexity by extracting multiple years and looking at the trend of the comparison group average over time.

One of the biggest challenges in using IPEDS data this way is that the most recent data you get is from last year. People unfamiliar with IPEDS will ask why that is the case, so be prepared to explain the time lag. During that explanation, also mention the advantage of using other institutions’ IPEDS data—it’s consistent across institutions because they are all using the same set of instructions and definitions when they submit data, making it more of an apples-to-apples comparison than might be achieved with other methods. An approach I have taken is to compare last year’s peer average to my institution’s data from last year so it’s more consistent over time.

Let’s say your institution’s goal is to increase its six-year graduation rate to exceed the average rate of the institutions in your comparison group. You can present a spreadsheet showing your graduation rate over time and your comparison group’s average. To show comparisons over time, I might include data from five years ago, last year, and the current year, (which has to be retrieved from your institution’s most recent IPEDS submission). You can add another level of complexity if you also extracted multiple years of data for your comparison group, by looking at the trend in their graduation rates. Just be careful not to overwhelm your audience—ultimately, you want people to focus on your findings.

What do you see in the data? Is the graduation rate increasing as planned? Is it approaching or exceeding the comparison group average? If it is, you’ve just used IPEDS data to demonstrate institutional success. If not, it means there is still work to be done, and you’ll probably be asked to produce your report again next year. The good news is, your methodology is in place for next time.

 

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