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Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)


Target Population

All institutions (in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other jurisdictions) whose purpose is the provision of postsecondary education may participate in IPEDS, but the majority of institutions represented are those that are eligible to participate in Title IV federal student financial aid programs. The IPEDS universe includes institutions and branch campuses that offer a full program of study (not just courses); freestanding medical schools, as well as schools of nursing, schools of radiology, etc., within hospitals; and schools offering occupational and vocational training with the intent of preparing students for work.

The IPEDS universe of postsecondary institutions does not include institutions that are not open to the general public (training sites at prisons, military installations, or corporations); hospitals that offer only internships or residency programs or that offer only training as part of a medical school program at a postsecondary institution; organizational entities providing only noncredit continuing education; schools whose only purpose is to prepare students to take a particular test, such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or bar exams; and branch campuses of U.S. institutions in foreign countries. Relevant data from such locations or training sites are to be incorporated into the data reported by the main campus or any other institution or branch campus in the system that is most appropriate. Prior to 2010–11, Title IV institutions that were not primarily postsecondary (e.g., secondary technical schools with a small postsecondary component) reported to IPEDS voluntarily; since 2010–11 their participation has been required.

Eligibility for Title IV federal financial aid, while not a requirement for inclusion in the universe, defines a major subset of all postsecondary institutions. Prior to 1996, aid eligible institutions were self-identified or were identified as aid-eligible from responses to items in the Institutional Characteristics survey. Since 1996, the subset of aid eligible institutions has been validated by matching the IPEDS universe with the PEPS file maintained by OPE, the office that grants institutions eligibility for participating in Title IV federal financial aid programs. As an example, 126 postsecondary institutions that had been included in prior IPEDS data collections were outside the scope of IPEDS in 2013–14 due to being closed, merging with another institution, or no longer offering postsecondary programs. A review of PEPS then added 193 postsecondary institutions to the universe; however the net change in number of institutions since the previous IPEDS data collection was less than half of a percentage point.

In establishing the PEPS file, the U.S. Department of Education discontinued its tradition of distinguishing institutions accredited at the college level from institutions accredited at the occupational/vocational level. Therefore, it is no longer possible for NCES to maintain a subset of accredited institutions at the college level (IHEs). Beginning with the 1997 IPEDS mailing and in the 1996 and subsequent data files, institutions have been classified by whether or not they are eligible to participate in Title IV financial aid programs and whether or not they grant degrees (as opposed to awarding only certificates).

Sample Design

Prior to 1993, data were collected from a representative sample of about 15 percent of the universe of private, for profit, less-than-2-year institutions. However, the Higher Education Act of 1992 mandated the completion of the IPEDS surveys for all institutions that participate in or are applicants for participation in any federal student financial assistance program authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. Thus, beginning with the 1993 IPEDS mailing, NCES surveys in detail all postsecondary institutions meeting this mandate.


Data Collection and Processing

IPEDS data are submitted by institutions, or by state agencies on behalf of institutions, through a web-based data collection system. Data may be key-entered or uploaded using a fixed file, key value, or XML format. Interactive edits are run through the data collection system, and the data provider must clear the edits and “lock” the data submission. Additional quality control edits are run on the data prior to data release.

The web-based data collection system was implemented with the 2000–01 collection cycle, with contractors developing the website and managing the collection process. Prior to 2000–01, survey forms were either submitted directly by the institutions or through a central or state coordinating office.

The IPEDS institution-level data collection allows for aggregation of results at various levels and permits significant controls on data quality through editing. Attempts are made to minimize institutional respondent burden by coordinating data collection with the states and with other offices and agencies that regularly collect data from institutions.

Starting from the winter 2016–17 collection, data for all components were collected through the IPEDS web-based data collection system. Data for Spring 2018 were collected between December 13, 2017, and April 11, 2018 Data were provided by “keyholders,” institutional representatives appointed by campus chief executives, who were responsible for ensuring that survey data submitted by the institution were correct and complete. No problems were noted during the Spring 2018 data collection. During the collection period, the IPEDS help desk was available to assist respondents with reporting the necessary data.

Reference dates. Data for the IPEDS component surveys are collected for a particular academic year, 12–month period, or fiscal year, as follows:

  • The Institutional Characteristics component collects data for the entire current academic year, generally starting in September, or with the fall term, if there is one. In the case of schools operating on a 12-month calendar, the reference period runs from the current September through August. The exception to this is the cost of attendance, which is collected by academic year for institutions with an academic calendar and by the entire program for institutions with calendars that differ by program or enroll on a continuous basis.

  • The Completions component collects data in the fall for an entire 12-month period, which is defined as July 1 through June 30.

  • The 12-month Enrollment component collects data in the fall for a 12-month reporting period in the previous year from July 1 through June 30.

  • The Student Financial Aid component collects data for the prior aid year. Institutions reporting on a fall cohort report aid for the prior academic year; institutions reporting on a full-year cohort report aid for the prior 12-month period.

  • The Graduation Rates 200% Graduation Rates, and Outcome Measures components are collected in the winter, and institutions report on the status of students in their cohort (either a fall cohort or a full-year cohort) as of August 31. For the Outcome Measures component, beginning with the 2017–18 collection year, all degree granting institutions report on a 12-month (full-year) cohort.

  • The Admissions component collects data for the current fall.

  • The Fall Enrollment component collects data in the spring for a single point in time during the fall term, usually recorded as of the institution’s official fall reporting date or October 15. Institutions that operate on a continuous basis report their fall enrollment based on the time period between August 1 and October 31. If there is no fall term enrollment, institutions are asked to report zero enrollment.

  • The Finance component collects data for the institution’s most recent fiscal year ending before October 1.

  • The Human Resources component collects data in the spring pertaining to the number of staff on the institution’s payroll as of November 1. Additionally, the HR component collects data on new hires from July 1 through October 31 of the survey year. Salaries (and fringe benefits data previously collected through 2011–12) reflect the full academic year. Prior to the 2001 collection, institutions reported salaries as of October 1.

  • The Academic Libraries component collects data for the previous fiscal year.


Data collection. Since institutions are the primary unit of data collection, institutional units must be defined as consistently as possible. The IPEDS program does not request separate reports from more than one component within an individual institution; however, separate branch campuses are asked to report as individual units. Since the HEGIS model, the IPEDS program has focused on collecting data from each institution in a multi–institutional system, and from each separate branch in a multi–campus system.

Schools targeted as “possible adds” are identified from many sources, including a review of the PEPS data file from OPE, and information received from the institutions themselves. Institutions are added to the universe if they respond that they provide postsecondary education as defined in the survey. Unlike in past years (prior to 2000), these institutions submit all survey components in their first year in IPEDS.

Institutions found to be closed or out–of–scope during data collection are deleted from the IPEDS universe. These deletions result from formal notification from PEPS, the institution, or the IPEDS state coordinators. Included in the deletions are (1) duplicates of other institutions on the file;
(2) institutions that closed or merged with another institution and, thus, are no longer legitimate institutions or branches; (3) institutions that no longer offer postsecondary programs; and (4) schools that do not conform to the IPEDS definition of an institution or branch. The final IPEDS universe is also adjusted to reflect institutions that have changed from one sector to another.

Institutions receive letters or emails in August containing UserIDs and passwords for the web–based data collection system and instructions for registering their keyholder. The keyholder is responsible for entering and locking the institution’s data by each collection close date. Follow–up is done by email and telephone and is conducted either directly with the keyholder or with the institution’s chief executive officer (if there is no registered keyholder). State IPEDS coordinators also conduct follow–up.

To ease respondent burden, the Institutional Characteristics web screens include previously reported data, and survey respondents are instructed to update the previous data, if necessary, and to provide current information for items such as tuition and required fees, and room and board charges. (In earlier years, IC forms were preprinted with prior-year survey responses for those items that generally were not expected to change from year to year.) Screens for other IPEDS components contain selected information from previous reporting (such as CIP codes and program titles in the screens for the Completions and Enrollment components, and cohort for Graduation Rates). Prior year values are preloaded on screens for reference and to edit against and values are brought forward from one section to another where they must match. Totals, differences, ratios, and rates are calculated by the data collection system. Institutions may choose to key enter their data into the system, or to upload a file in a fixed, key value, or, more recently, XML format.

State and system IPEDS coordinators play a large role in the submission and review of IPEDS data. In many states, the IPEDS institutional data are provided by the state higher education agency from data collected in state surveys. Coordinators may choose the sectors and institutions they wish to monitor (e.g., they can identify just 4-year schools or specify particular institutions); they can also choose to view the data only, or actually review, approve, and “lock” the data. Alternatively, state agencies may extract data from IPEDS rather than conduct their own surveys.

Prior to web–based data collection, mailings of survey forms generally took place in July of the survey year. Due dates varied by component. Extensive follow–up for survey nonresponse was conducted during the 6 months following each component’s due date. Initially, reminder letters were mailed, encouraging nonresponding institutions to complete and return their forms. Subsequently, the Postsecondary Education Telephone System (PETS) was used to collect critical data by telephone from representatives of institutions for which the IPEDS state coordinators were not responsible for follow–up.

Institutions reported the IPEDS data by mail (on paper forms or diskettes), by fax, or electronically through the Internet. Two methods were available: the first method involved a predetermined ASCII record layout, available for all surveys, except Institutional Characteristics. For the Fall Enrollment and Graduation Rate surveys, a second method was available that used downloadable software for data entry as well as preliminary editing of the data before transmission to the Census Bureau.

The 2017–18 IPEDS universe included 6,642 Title IV institutions and 73 administrative offices (central or system offices) in the United States and other United States jurisdictions1.


Editing. Edit checks are built into the web–based data collection instrument to detect major reporting errors. The system automatically generates percentages for many data elements and totals for each survey page. Based on these calculations, edit checks compare current responses to previously reported data. The percent variance necessary to trigger an edit check varies depending on the data element being compared, but data elements are typically considered out of the expected range if the variance is greater than 25 percent. Edit checks can be run by the keyholder at any time during the collection, and all edit failures are required to be resolved before the keyholder can lock the data. As edit checks are executed, survey respondents are allowed to correct any errors detected by the system. If data are entered correctly but fail the edit checks, the survey respondents are asked either to confirm that the data are correct as entered or to key in a text message explaining why the data appear to be out of the expected data range. Additionally, some edit failures are “fatal”; in these cases, the data must be corrected by the keyholder rather than confirmed or explained, or an edit override must be performed. Keyholders can contact the IPEDS Help desk to request overrides. Survey respondents are also provided with one or more context boxes for each survey component and are encouraged to use them to explain any special circumstances that might not be evident in their reported data.

Final quality control procedures are performed when all institutions have responded or data for them have been imputed.

Before the conversion to a web–based reporting system in 2000–01, all data, whether received on paper forms, diskettes, electronically through the Internet, or through PETS, went through the same editing process to verify internal and inter–year consistency. Additional checks were performed by adding down or across columns and comparing generated totals with reported totals. If the reported total differed from the generated total but was within a designated range, the reported to­tal was replaced by the generated total and the cell was flagged with the proper imputation code. Otherwise, institutions were contacted to resolve the discrepancies.


Estimation Methods

Weighting. Weighting is not necessary because IPEDS is a universe survey.

Imputation. Imputation is done to compensate for nonresponse at the institution level and for nonresponse to specific data items. A single imputation is performed after all editing has been completed, using the nearest-neighbor approach. All the IPEDS components use the same imputation flags. Institutions whose data are entirely imputed may be identified in the file by their response status and imputation type codes. For responding institutions whose data are partially imputed, the affected items may be identified by the associated item imputation flags.

In the past, the IPEDS used cold-deck (updated by ratio methods to reflect the change) and hot-deck imputation procedures to adjust for partial or total nonresponse to a specific survey instrument.

Imputed data are on file for institutions with partial or total nonresponse. Caution should be exercised when comparing institutions for which data have been imputed, since these data are intended for computing national totals and not intended to be an accurate portrayal of an institution’s data. Users should also be cautious when making year-to- year enrollment comparisons by state. In some cases, state enrollment counts vary between years as a result of imputation rather than actual changes in the reported enrollment data. To avoid misinterpretation, users should always check the response status codes of individual institutions to determine if a large proportion of data was imputed.


History of Changes

Some of the substantial changes to the IPEDS program are summarized in this section.

  • Prior to 1993, a representative sample of about 15 percent of the universe of private, for–profit, less–than–2–year institutions was surveyed to obtain national estimates for fall enrollment, completions, finance, and fall staff data. These data were weighted and subject to sampling error. Since 1993, IPEDs has surveyed the entire universe of postsecondary institutions.

  • The primary focus of the IPEDS data collections is to collect data from Title IV institutions. These institutions have Program Participation Agreements (PPAs) with the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) within the U.S. Department of Education and thus are eligible to participate in Title IV student financial aid programs. The IPEDS program no longer differentiates between accredited college–level institutions and postsecondary institutions with occupational or vocational accreditation. Beginning with the 1996 data files, institutions are classified based on: 1) whether or not they are eligible to participate in Title IV financial aid programs, and 2) whether or not they grant degrees, instead of being classified based on highest level of degree offered. 

  • Beginning with the 1997 mailing, the IPEDS universe was subdivided according to (1) accreditation status, (2) level of institution, and (3) degree–granting status. 

  • When paper versions of the survey were administered prior to 1996, a Consolidated Form (CN and CN–F) was used to collect the IPEDS data from accredited institutions that only granted certificates at the subbaccalaureate level. The Consolidated Form consisted of four or five parts designed to collect minimal enrollment and completions data on the same schedule as the regular IPEDS components, by race/ethnicity and gender, and collected data on finance, fall staffing, and academic libraries. As of 1996, the Finance part of the Consolidated Form was moved to a separate form (CN–F). The purpose and use of the Consolidated Form was the same as for the full package of surveys: to allow national data on all accredited institutions to be presented and analyzed. The Consolidated Form is no longer needed, since the web-based data collection system, implemented in the 2000–01 survey year, automatically tailors data items for institutions based on selected characteristics and screening questions. 

  • An annual spring collection component (Graduation Rate) was added in 1997 to help institutions satisfy the requirements of the Student Right–to–Know Act of 1990. For the 1997–98 GR, 4–year institutions reported on a 1991 cohort, and less than 4–year institutions reported on a 1994 cohort. 

  • In 1999, NCES collected selected data items in a pilot test of a web-based survey. These items—tuition and fees for entering students, room and board, books and supplies, and information on students receiving financial aid—have been incorporated in the redesigned IPEDS data collection, implemented in 2000–01; the pricing items became part of the fall Institutional Characteristics survey, and the student financial aid data became the Student Financial Aid component of the winter data collection. 

  • The Fall Enrollment in Occupationally Specific Programs (EP) component was incorporated into the IPEDS program in response to the Carl Perkins vocational education legislation. Conducted biennially in odd-numbered years, this survey collected fall enrollment data on students enrolled in occupationally specific programs at the subbaccalaureate level, by race/ethnicity and gender of student and by fields of study (identified by 6 digit CIP codes). Starting in 1995, total unduplicated counts of students enrolled in these programs were also requested. However, the survey was discontinued as of the 1999–2000 data collection. 

  • An Academic Libraries component, first administered in 1966, was designed to provide concise information on library resources, services, and expenditures for the entire population of academic libraries in the United States. In 1988, the Academic Libraries survey became a part of the IPEDS program, being administered biennially in even-numbered years. (From 1966 to 1988, the Academic Libraries Survey was conducted on a 3-year cycle.) In September 2000 this survey was removed from the IPEDS data collection but continued to be collected by NCES. After a review of the NCES Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) in 2012, it was determined that the ALS should be reintegrated into the IPEDS survey and was added as a spring survey component for the 2014–15 data collection.

  • Prior to the development of the web–based data collection system, the IPEDS survey forms were mailed to institutions based upon the information provided in the prior year’s Institutional Characteristics survey: namely, control and highest level of offering (which determined an institution’s sector) and accreditation status. Institutions that were not accredited (and thus not eligible for federal student financial aid), were asked to complete only the Institutional Characteristics survey form. However, all accredited institutions that either (1) grant an associate’s or higher degree or (2) offer a certificate program above the baccalaureate level, received a full packet of components–Institutional Characteristics, Completions, Fall Enrollment, Fall Enrollment in Occupationally Specific Programs, Fall Staff, Finance, Graduation Rates, Salaries of Full–Time Instructional Faculty, and Academic Libraries. All other accredited institutions (i.e., those granting only certificates at the subbaccalaureate level) were required to complete Institutional Characteristics, Graduation Rates, and a Consolidated Form. In 2000, IPEDS was redesigned, and postsecondary institutions that had Title IV Program Participation Agreements with OPE became the primary focus for the full set of data collected by the IPEDS. Thus, the current web-based system considers Title IV status, rather than accreditation. 

  • In 2000–01, NCES converted the IPEDS to a web–based data collection system. The content of the survey “forms” was revised and reduced in scope, and the procedures for collecting data vary considerably from those used in prior years. In the first year, two collection cycles were implemented: the fall 2000 cycle collected Institutional Characteristics and Completions data, and the spring 2001 cycle collected Enrollment, Student Financial Aid, Finance, and Graduation Rate data. In subsequent years, a winter cycle has been included to collect Human Resources data. 

  • In 2005–06, three survey components–Employees by Assigned Position, Salaries, and Fall Staff–were merged into the single Human Resources component to simplify reporting and ensure data consistency and accuracy. The IPEDS glossary and instructions were also restructured, based on the new design, to improve the consistency of reporting between surveys. A few survey items were also reorganized to be more logical in flow. 

  • In the 2007–08 collection, the Enrollment component was separated into two components– 12–Month Enrollment and Fall Enrollment. This allowed the data for the 12 months to be collected earlier in the data collection.

  • Beginning with the 2009–10 IPEDS, a new component was added to the spring collection called 200% Graduation Rates (GR200). This component collects data on the number of students in the cohort who completed their program within 200 percent of normal time. It is separate from the regular Graduation Rates (GR) component. 

  • In 2009–10, numerous changes were made to reduce reporting burden for nondegree-granting institutions. These changes include elimination of items on IC; combining data collection on HR into a single section with consolidation of 4 primary occupational categories(instruction, research, public service, and combined); elimination of transfers-in and noncertificate-seeking student columns on EF; and vastly simplifying the finance reporting required of these institutions. 

  • Prior to the 2010–11 data collection, race/ ethnicity categories were reported as: Non–resident alien, Race and ethnicity unknown, Black, non–Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and White, non-Hispanic. However, effective for the 2011–12 collection, all components must use the new race/ethnicity categories of: Nonresident aliens, Race and ethnicity unknown, Hispanics of any race, and for non-Hispanics only, the additional categories of American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White, and Two or more races. 

  • The 2012–13 IPEDS survey began collecting information on distance education as well as full-time-equivalent enrollment for doctor’s and professional-practice instructional activity. This is also the year that the Completions component started collecting information about completers (an unduplicated count of students who receive a degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award).

  • In the 2014–15 IPEDS, the admissions survey items were moved from the Institutional Characteristics components to form the Admissions component during the winter collection. Additionally, the Academic Libraries was added to the spring collection. With the addition of 2 survey components, the calendar was adjusted so that Graduation Rates and 200% Graduation Rates were moved from the spring to the winter.

  • Starting with the 2015–16 IPEDS data collection, the Outcome Measures component was collected during the winter collection.

  • Beginning in the 2016–17 collection year, the Graduation Rates cohorts were further disaggregated into the subcohort of students who received a Pell Grant and the subcohort of students who received a subsidized Stafford Loan but did not receive a Pell Grant.

Future Plans

IPEDS plans to continue with three separate data collections (fall, winter, and spring) in future years. Data items and survey components may be modified to reflect current issues in postsecondary education as recommended by the IPEDS Technical Review Panel or as required by law.


1 The other United States jurisdictions are American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.