Common Data Set: What's Your ROI?

77percent.jpgHow much time and effort do you put into the Common Data Set (CDS) and how do you use the information after it is submitted? The Association for Institutional Research (AIR) recently conducted a survey to determine members’ time investment in the reporting of CDS data and the ways they use the information that they report.

Colleges and universities have a lot of data to report. In order to streamline the amount of effort expended to report that data and improve its quality and accuracy, a set of common definitions was established by the U.S. higher education community in collaboration with publishers, as represented by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report. This initiative, the Common Data Set (CDS), comprises eight sections: Academic Offerings and Policies; Annual Expenses; Enrollment and Persistence; Financial Aid; First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission; Instructional Faculty and Class Size Student Life; and Transfer Admission.

Preparing CDS Data

We asked respondents to evaluate their institution’s preparation of CDS data. We found:
  • 48% of respondents whose institution completes at least some of the CDS said their Office of IR was solely responsible for its completion, while 50% said their Office of IR collaborated with other offices. Only 2% of respondents said IR was not involved.
  • 45% of respondents said it took more than 20 hours to complete the CDS, while 27% of respondents couldn’t estimate total completion time due to multiple offices’ involvement.


 We also asked whether there could be any improvement in the CDS reporting process:
  • 51% of respondents were satisfied with their institution’s process to complete the CDS data, 43% said the process could be improved, and 6% said their institution did not have an effective process in place.

Using CDS Data

Because preparing CDS data takes valuable time and effort to prepare, using that information beyond its original intent—to respond to publisher surveys—is good practice. Overall, 77% of respondents said they used the CDS data in other ways.
  • 64% of respondents said they use the CDS as a faculty/staff resource and 47% said it is used for their institution’s Fact Book.


Making CDS data public for others’ benchmarking is another use of this data beyond its original intent. We asked respondents if their institution’s CDS data is publically available.

  • 66% of respondents said their CDS data was available on their institution’s public website, 14% said it was available upon request, and the remaining 20% said their CDS data was not publicly available.
  • For those who said their CDS was not available, 54% of respondents said sections of the CDS were sensitive and could not be released publically, 27% of respondents indicated that data weren’t collected consistently across campuses making benchmarking problematic, and the remaining reported technical issues in releasing the data.

Beyond sharing their data with others, some respondents also reported seeking out the CDS data from other institutions.

  • 40% said they had downloaded other institutions’ CDS data at least once during the past academic year. 26% said they’d accessed outside CDS data more than twice.

How long does it take for your institution to process CDS data? Do you think your process could be improved? In what ways do you use CDS data after you’ve submitted it? Do you ever compare the data at your institution with another? Share your thoughts and comments below.



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Total Comments: 1
Robert posted on 7/22/2015 11:16 AM
The biggest improvement I could recommend is for the data to be publicly available. For institutions to spend as much time as they do for the information to be used by the College Board, Peterson's, and US News, it seems like these publisher's should partner among themselves and maybe some other users, to make this information more usable to the high education community. Much of information is make available to consumers, so there should be a systems similar to the IPEDS Data Center that make the information more useable and accessible. While much of the information duplicates IPEDS, there are some features of the CDS which are useful on there own right, and a tool to easily extract the information would be a welcome addition.