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Working Group Findings and Suggestions

The analysis of IPEDS data and interviews regarding institutional practices for reporting subbaccalaureate certificates to IPEDS yielded several findings.

  • Although institutions have internal consistency about what certificates are reported (or not) to IPEDS, that consistency does not necessarily exist across institutions. Furthermore, institutional representatives reported that, by and large, the definitions presented in IPEDS are clear; however, differences in reporting practices suggest that some details that directly affect certificate reporting could be better explained in the IPEDS instructions or definitions.
  • The general increase in the number of subbaccalaureate certificate awards reported is accompanied by some anomalies in the trends, particularly in the more recent years. This may indicate a need for clarity in the IPEDS Completions component definitions and instructions.
  • Institutions, particularly 4-year institutions, may be reporting certificates that are not necessarily subbaccalaureate certificates or that may not be earned as the result of an independent, formal program of study.
    There is increased interest in knowing which certificates are awarded for Title IV eligible programs and which are not. This was suggested both by the Working Group and institutions.
  • Institutions are awarding a number of noncredit certificates that, under current definitions, are not being reported to IPEDS.
  • Based on the findings, the Working Group has three suggestions for ensuring that the above areas are adequately addressed in future IPEDS data collections.

    Working Group Suggestion #1: Clarify IPEDS Instructions and Definitions

    First, the Working Group suggests clarifying the existing IPEDS definitions and Completions component instructions to ensure that institutions are reporting appropriate certificate completions. Specifically, the following should be addressed and clarified in the current instructions:

    • That there is no credit minimum for reporting awards;
    • Whether to include awards conferred as the result of completion of non-Title IV programs;
    • Whether to report certificates awarded to students as part of other degree programs; and
    • The meaning of "independent program of study."

    These changes should be implemented as soon as possible.

    Working Group Suggestion #2: Explore Modifying Current Certificate Categories

    Second, the Working Group suggests convening a Technical Review Panel to explore the feasibility and desirability of modifying the certificate definitions and categories. The Working Group's analysis reveals variability in certificates reported within the subbaccalaureate certificate categories (e.g., that some institutions report all certificates, while others only report those above a certain credit threshold). Some of the variability could be eliminated through modification to current IPEDS certificate categories. Additionally, more detail and contextual information would be desirable given the prominent and growing role of subbaccalaureate certificates in higher education.

    The Working Group discussed several potential methods for defining and classifying certificates for IPEDS reporting. The Working Group agreed that future discussions should take into account Title IV eligibility, prerequisite postsecondary awards, and level of prerequisite award (if any) as possible parameters for certificate category definition. Discussions about reclassifying IPEDS certificates should also include the possibility of an indicator of program length.

    Working Group Suggestion #3: Collecting Noncredit Certificate Data

    Third, the Working Group also suggests exploring the possibility of collecting data on noncredit certificates. Many institutions award certificates for noncredit programs (some of which are identical to credit-bearing programs at other institutions). Collecting those in IPEDS would help ensure complete data on certificates awarded by institutions. Among the institutions reviewed that also awarded noncredit certificates, it is not clear that data on noncredit certificates are systematically collected by the institutions. For institutions that do collect data on noncredit certificates, the data are often collected in a database separate from credit-bearing certificates, which may not be readily accessible to staff that are reporting IPEDS data. From institutional interviews, representatives seemed to be clear on excluding noncredit certificates from IPEDS reporting.

    The Working Group recognizes the need to be sensitive to institutional burden. Any changes made to the IPEDS Completions component should consider potential impacts on institutional reporting burden and use IPEDS data for analyzing trends in certificate awards. The institutional interviews conducted for this Working Group did not gather information on the potential burden of reporting noncredit certificate data. The technical review process should consider this issue.