Make IPEDS Work for You

Braden J. Hosch is the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research, Planning & Effectiveness at Stony Brook University. He has served as an IPEDS Educator for nine years.

Institutional research offices typically devote significant effort to extract, maintain, and summarize data to fulfill reporting requirements to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). In fact, there are times when IPEDS reporting consumes significant office resources and seems to distract from other pressing needs. The burden of IPEDS, however, decreases when we can get IPEDS to return value to us, and the various IPEDS tools do just that. They deliver value to campuses, especially for benchmarking and contextualizing our own data.

Eric Atchison’s article earlier this fall, entitled IPEDS Collection Changes: Get Involved, Be Informed, calls out some of the great IPEDS tools that can help provide this value – and make you look like a data wizard, to boot. I want to offer some additional reasons why you should use these tools and leverage them to increase the value of your own local data and reports.

First, data in isolation mean nothing. Numbers without a context are difficult to interpret, and our job in IR is not simply to offer data but also to generate meaning. For instance, the fall headcount enrollment at my institution this year was 25,734 students, but that means little unless I tell you this number was a record for enrollment at Stony Brook University (year-to-year comparison) or this level of enrollment makes us the second largest public university in New York (in comparison to a similar group of institutions). These interpretive frameworks offer benchmark comparisons that help make sense of the numbers, and IPEDS is an excellent source to accomplish this task.

Second, tools for retrieving IPEDS data are increasingly fast and easy to use. In the 1990s, IPEDS reporting was completed on paper and submitted to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Several years following survey submission, a compact disc of data from that collection would arrive in the mail. Those data could be extracted with some effort, but the time lag reduced its currency in both literal and figurative senses. I still have some of these CDs in a file cabinet somewhere. Fast forward to 2016 and these data are readily available online and can be accessed relatively soon after they are reported.

Finally, as with all tasks, you need to select the right tool for the right job. Below is a quick cheat sheet of major IPEDS tools with short descriptions of strengths and limitations. Follow links to training resources developed by AIR for a quick primer on how to use each tool, but don’t hesitate to jump in and start using the data. 





Use the Data
(IPEDS Data Center

Powerful tool to extract data sets over multiple years; custom data sets can be built or the full IPEDS universe downloaded

Can take time to develop familiarity; extensive variable trees can appear intimidating to new users

Training video

Data Feedback Report

A fundamental benchmarking report released in late fall/early winter to campus CEOs and IR leaders; contains pre-packaged frequently requested metrics and can be customized to some extent

Generally restricted to a single year of data; data can appear to lag and not all IPEDS fields are available

Training video

Trend Generator

Easy and reliable way to get national and state level statistics for enrollment, graduation rates, etc. Can segment by sector, control, and several other groupings

Drill to underlying data is not available; the number of questions the tool can answer is limited, though growing

Training video

College Navigator

While this tool is consumer-oriented, it is also easy enough for tech-wary leadership to use. Provides a wide range of fundamental information, especially about competitors, that can be accessed on a smartphone in a meeting

Generally, a single year of data and not all IPEDS fields are available; data extraction is possible but less facile than the Compare Institutions function found in Use the Data (Data Center)

Training video

Also of note on AIR’s website is a data tools overview video, which offers a summary of available tools. A range of other video tutorials are available to assist with reporting IPEDS, as well. Don’t forget about resources available through the two IPEDS Help Desks:

IPEDS Data Use Help Desk - Phone: 866-558-0658; Email:

Frequently requested services:

  • Assistance with accessing IPEDS data for research and analysis

  • Answers about specific types of data collected in IPEDS

  • Guidance for locating and using IPEDS data

IPEDS Data Collection Help Desk - Phone: 877-225-2568; Email:

Frequent topics:

  • Data collection schedule

  • Clarifications on survey questions

  • Reporting requirements

  • Assistance with edit errors

  • General IPEDS questions

As a last word, more in-depth instruction on how to use these tools is available through AIR, which provides 30+ in-person half-day or full-day IPEDS Workshops across the country as well as two online Keyholder courses mentored by IPEDS Educators.



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Total Comments: 1
John posted on 12/15/2016 3:40 PM
Nice work, Braden. In a time with doing more with less, you featured a results oriented article that I can keep as a handy reference.