The AIR Professional File
Fall 2021, Article 155 

How Noncredit Enrollments Distort Community College IPEDS Data: An Eight-State Study

Richard M. Romano, Mark M. D’Amico   

Download PDF


A commonly used metric for measuring college costs, drawn from data in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), is expenditure per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. This article discusses an error in this per FTE calculation when using IPEDS data, especially with regard to community colleges. The problem is that expenditures for noncredit courses are reported to IPEDS but enrollments are not. This exclusion inflates any per FTE student figure calculated from IPEDS, in particular expenditures and revenues. A 2021 IPEDS Technical Review Panel (TRP #62) acknowledged this problem and moved campus institutional research offices a step closer to reporting noncredit enrollment data (RTI International, 2021). This article is the first to provide some numbers on the magnitude of this problem. It covers eight states—California, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Data on noncredit community college enrollments were made available from system offices in all states. In addition, discussions were held at both the system level and the campus level to verify the data and assumptions. Figures provided by states were merged with existing IPEDS data at the campus and state levels, and then were adjusted to account for noncredit enrollments. The results provide evidence that calculations using IPEDS data alone overestimate the resources that community colleges have to spend on each student, although distortions vary greatly between states and among colleges in the same state. The results have important implications for research studies and college benchmarking.

Keywords: community college spending, noncredit enrollments, IPEDS


Additional Information


Although they bear no responsibility for the current study, this line of research would not have been possible without the coauthors who worked with us in the previous study (Romano et al., 2019): Rita Kirshstein (George Washington University), Michelle Van Noy (Rutgers University), and Willard Hom (California). For the current study, a number of state- and campus-level people helped us in the preparation of data and agreed to interviews. Some wished to remain anonymous. Others were Vladimir Bassis, Jason Pontius, and Brenda Ireland (Iowa); Tammy Lemon and Russ Deaton (Tennessee); Carrie Douglas and Catherine Finnegan (Virginia); and Rosline Sumpter and Brad Neese (South Carolina). We also benefited from the help of John Fink and Davis Jenkins (Columbia University), Anthony Carnevale (Georgetown University), Ron Ehrenberg (Cornell University), and Pamela Eddy (College of William & Mary). Asking states for data during the pandemic was risky business; despite reduced staffing and the demands of the state systems to generate information for budget decisions, however, state representatives were generous with their time and were always available for follow-up questions. We are very grateful for their effort.


Richard M. Romano, Broome Community College

Mark M. D’Amico, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Copyright © Association for Institutional Research 2021