Federal Data Infrastructure

Key sources of information on higher education come from a variety of administrative, survey, and state-held data systems at the federal level. One of these sources is the administrative data reported to the federal government annually by each school, under the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). These records include basic directory information for each school, as well as detailed surveys on enrollment, completion, tuition prices, faculty and staff, and more. IPEDS includes data from over 10,000 institutions of higher education, approximately 7,000 of which are required to report these data by responding to a series of surveys in order to remain eligible for Title IV funds.Because these records pertain to schools rather than individual students, they are useful for analysis of specific institutions, they do not allow us to analyze patterns within the institution. Of particular concern in much of the policy community, the lack of a requirement for reporting graduation rates of federal Pell grant recipients.

The College Scorecard drew significantly from IPEDS data and added several new sources, including information on student borrowing and aid recipiency from the National Student Longitudinal Data System (NSLDS), and wage and employment data from the U.S. Department of Treasury. These previously unreleased sources were aggregated to the school level but included demographic breakdowns of the most salient data points. Because of tracking problems with the NSLDS, Pell graduation rates reported in the College Scorecard remain unreliable.

The office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) also collects and makes public key information on the total dollars disbursed and the number of recipients at each school through each program it administers. Because this information is derived from administrative sources, little is known about the students who receive this aid, but it does provide a good overview of how aid flows to institutions.

Survey data generated through the Department of Education include the National Postsecondary Aid Study (NPSAS), which also serves as the base year for the Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) and Beginning Postsecondary (BPS) longitudinal surveys. These survey data provide student-level information on a variety of issues unavailable elsewhere, but are only collected every four years, and aren’t connected to specific institutions for privacy reasons. This means that the information collected is made available with a significant lag and that general findings can be used for policy development, but cannot inform accountability or institutional improvement.

Because of a congressional ban on collecting individual student records at the federal level, no such administrative system exists for research purposes.