“To everything there is a season.”
Whether you recognize that line from The Bible or The Byrds, it’s a commonly known phrase with wide-ranging applications. For Institutional Researchers, the everything is their IPEDS surveys and the season is nearly year-round.
Every year, compliance officers face three IPEDS reporting cycles – Fall, Winter, and Spring (although one could argue that Winter and Spring feel like a single cycle since they open at the same time). These are typically challenging times.
In this first of a two-part blog series on IPEDS, we’ll take a high-level look at the steps involved in the IPEDS survey process and some of the key pain points associated with each step.
The IPEDS process – which should culminate in a successful data submission – is iterative in nature and can be broadly outlined as follows:
- Gather the data
- Review the results
- Correct the data errors
- (Occasionally) retool the collection method
- Restart the process until there are satisfactory results
- Submit the data, explaining significant differences
Gather the Data
In a typical scenario, there are processes in place that leverage the institution’s enterprise reporting tool to retrieve the data needed to create the IPEDS submission. The data must then be transformed from its unit record form into the required IPEDS formats. (NOTE: It is important to be able to analyze the data in both its unit record form and in its IPEDS form.)
In an environment where governance tends to be decentralized, overseeing compliance reporting efforts for the institution can be a challenge. Data sources are often spread over many areas of responsibility. Also, other functional areas may not embrace the importance of the compliance effort – or even understand the circumstances that can arise from non-compliance. Add to that the possibility that those areas don’t always work together to ensure the necessary data is accurate and timely, and it is a wonder that data gets submitted at all!
Review the Results
Reviewing survey results – prior to submission – requires a coordinated effort. The overall results should be reviewed in the institutional context. Do the numbers reflect known changes (or the lack thereof) that have occurred during the reporting period? Will the submission pass the IPEDS audit checks? Will explanations be required? Are there any (gasp!) surprises?
Correct the Data Errors
If the review yields incorrect results, there may be an issue with underlying data. When issues are found, does staff have the time and know-how to correct the data at the source? Or do impending submission deadlines result in simply manipulating the results to meet those deadlines and avoid potential penalties?
Retool the Collection Method
In some instances, reviewing the results yields an anomaly where the data is technically correct at the source, but the method of retrieving the data no longer matches how the data is stored. This most often arises from a change in business process in an office where the data originates. Intended, or sometimes unintended, changes in process can result in unpredictable data – and could put a timely submission in jeopardy.
Restart the Process
Any time data is corrected at the source or collection methods are retooled, it will be necessary to restart the process from the top and step through it again. (Any institution that achieves success with a single iteration can count itself as extremely fortunate!) Again, this requires time, which may not be available because of improper planning.
Submit the Data, Explaining Significant Differences
The promised land! (Or so you hope!) You’re confident your IPEDS data is clean and vetted – and reflects the reality of the institution. But, in some instances, there have been changes at the institution that require an explanation to NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). Here, the challenge comes in the form of understanding where and why the changes occurred and then providing clear explanations in your submission.
We’ve just run through the key steps in the IPEDS survey process, and have an understanding of the various challenges and obstacles that might be encountered along the way. So now what?
Well, now you stay tuned!
Coming up next month, we’ll conclude this two-part blog series by looking at ways you can minimize the pain while maximizing your IPEDS process. (Next month is here!)