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Institute of Education Sciences

Knock, Knock! Who’s There? Understanding Who’s Counted in IPEDS

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is a comprehensive federal data source that collects information on key features of higher education in the United States, including characteristics of postsecondary institutions, college student enrollment and academic outcomes, and institutions’ employees and finances, among other topics.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has created a new resource page, Student Cohorts and Subgroups in IPEDS, that provides data reporters and users an overview of how IPEDS collects information related to postsecondary students and staff. This blog post highlights key takeaways from the resource page.

IPEDS survey components collect counts of key student and staff subgroups of interest to the higher education community.

Data users—including researchers, policy analysts, and prospective college students—may be interested in particular demographic groups within U.S. higher education. IPEDS captures data on a range of student and staff subgroups, including race/ethnicity, gender, age categories, Federal Pell Grant recipient status, transfer-in status, and part-time enrollment status.

The Outcome Measures (OM) survey component stands out as an example of how IPEDS collects student subgroups that are of interest to the higher education community. Within this survey component, all entering degree/certificate-seeking undergraduates are divided into one of eight subgroups by entering status (i.e., first-time or non-first-time), attendance status (i.e., full-time or part-time), and Pell Grant recipient status.

Although IPEDS is not a student-level data system, many of its survey components collect counts of students and staff by subgroup.

Many IPEDS survey components—such as Admissions, Fall Enrollment, and Human Resources—collect data as counts of individuals (i.e., students or staff) by subgroup (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender) (exhibit 1). Other IPEDS survey components—such as Graduation Rates, Graduation Rates 200%, and Outcome Measures—also include selected student subgroups but monitor cohorts of entering degree/certificate-seeking students over time to document their long-term completion and enrollment outcomes. A cohort is a specific group of students established for tracking purposes. The cohort year is based on the year that a cohort of students begins attending college.

Exhibit 1. IPEDS survey components that collect counts of individuals by subgroup

Table showing IPEDS survey components that collect counts of individuals by subgroup; column one shows the unit of information (student counts vs. staff counts); column two shows the survey component

IPEDS collects student and staff counts by combinations of interacting subgroups.

For survey components that collect student or staff counts, individuals are often reported in disaggregated demographic groups, which allows for more detailed understanding of specific subpopulations. For example, the Fall Enrollment (EF) and 12-month Enrollment (E12) survey components collect total undergraduate enrollment counts disaggregated by all possible combinations of students’ full- or part-time status, gender, degree/certificate-seeking status, and race/ethnicity. Exhibit 2 provides an excerpt of the EF survey component’s primary data collection screen (Part A), in which data reporters provide counts of students who fall within each demographic group indicated by the blank cells.

Exhibit 2. Excerpt of IPEDS Fall Enrollment (EF) survey component data collection screen for full-time undergraduate men: 2022­–23

[click image to enlarge]

Image of IPEDS Fall Enrollment survey component data collection screen for full-time undergraduate men in 2022–23

NOTE: This exhibit reflects the primary data collection screen (Part A) for the 2022–23 Fall Enrollment (EF) survey component for full-time undergraduate men. This screen is duplicated three more times for undergraduate students, once each for part-time men, full-time women, and part-time women. For survey materials for all 12 IPEDS survey components, including complete data collection forms and detailed reporting instructions, visit the IPEDS Survey Materials website.

As IPEDS does not collect data at the individual student level, these combinations of interacting subgroups are the smallest unit of information available in IPEDS. However, data users may wish to aggregate these smaller subgroups to arrive at larger groups that reflect broader populations of interest.

For example, using the information presented in exhibit 2, a data user could sum all the values highlighted in the green column to arrive at the total enrollment count of full-time, first-time men. As another example, a data user could sum all the values highlighted in the blue row to determine the total enrollment count of full-time Hispanic/Latino men. Note, however, that many IPEDS data products provide precalculated aggregated values (e.g., total undergraduate enrollment), but data are collected at these smaller units of information (i.e., disaggregated subgroup categories).

Student enrollment counts and cohorts align across IPEDS survey components.

There are several instances when student enrollment or cohort counts reported in one survey component should match or very closely mirror those same counts reported in another survey component. For example, the number of first-time degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students in a particular fall term should be consistently reported in the Admissions (ADM) and Fall Enrollment (EF) survey components within the same data collection year (see letter A in exhibit 3).

Exhibit 3. Alignment of enrollment counts and cohorts across IPEDS survey components

Infographic showing the alignment of enrollment counts and cohorts across IPEDS survey components

For a full explanation of the alignment of student counts and cohorts across IPEDS survey components (letters A to H in exhibit 3), visit the Student Cohorts and Subgroups in IPEDS resource page.

Be sure to follow NCES on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and YouTube, follow IPEDS on Twitter, and subscribe to the NCES News Flash to stay up-to-date on IPEDS data releases and resources.


By Katie Hyland and Roman Ruiz, AIR

Women’s Equality Day: The Gender Wage Gap Continues

Today, on Women’s Equality Day, we honor the many women who fuel the education sector with their dedication to our nation’s students! But, let’s also remember the many ways women are still striving to overcome inequalities in the workplace.

Women made up the majority of public school teachers (77 percent) and public school principals (54 percent) in 2017–18. While overrepresented in terms of public school positions, women were paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

Background Demographics

Compared to 30 years ago, women made up higher proportions of public school teachers and principals in 2017–18 than in 1987–88. According to data from the 1987–88 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 71 percent of all public school teachers were women. By 2017–18, data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) showed the rate had increased to 77 percent. The percentage of female public school principals more than doubled during the same period, from 25 percent in 1987–88 to 54 percent in 2017–18. 

Historically, U.S. school buildings weren’t heavily populated by women. Nearly all teachers were men before “Common Schools”—the precursor to today’s public school system—were introduced in the late 1820s. As the education landscape shifted, so did the composition of the teaching workforce. By the 1890s, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of all public school teachers were women.1 

New Depression-era laws in the 1930s—which limited the number of adults in a family who were allowed to work in certain occupations—made it more difficult for married women to stay in the workforce, since a husband often earned more than his wife, even in the same position. Since female public school teachers were the most immediately recognizable example of this law at the local level, married women in education were direct targets of employment discrimination.2 Consequently, the percentage of female teachers dropped from 81 percent in 1930 to 76 percent in 1940.3 Throughout history, this percentage continued to fluctuate as laws readjusted more equitably and more diverse jobs became available to women, although women have always represented more than 50 percent of the teacher workforce. 

The Gender Wage Gap: Teachers and Principals (2017–18 NTPS)

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women are paid less than men in nearly all occupations. While the gap for public elementary and secondary teachers is smaller than the average, it still exists.  

History tells us that the gender wage gap in elementary and secondary education wasn’t accidental. In fact, it was specifically created to expand the reach of the public education system by Common School reformers who argued that the United States could afford to staff the proposed new schools by adding more female teachers, since schools could pay them less than male teachers.4

Patterns in teacher compensation from the 2017–18 school year show that the average base teaching salary of female public school teachers is less than that of their male counterparts ($55,490 vs. $57,453).5 Comparably, female public school principals also had a lower average salary in 2017–18 than did male principals ($96,300 vs. $100,600).

How does average annual salary vary based on teacher, principal, or school characteristics? (201718 NTPS)

Public school teacher and principal salaries are known to vary by several individual- or school-related characteristics (see figures 1 and 2).

For instance, there are fluctuations in teachers’ and principals’ average annual salary by age, years of experience, and highest degree earned. Salary increases often follow a predictable pattern: older, more experienced, or more highly educated teachers and principals generally earn higher salaries than their younger, less experienced, or less educated counterparts.

Educators are also paid differently based on where they work. Certain school characteristics, such as community type, school level, and school size, can influence teachers’ and principals’ average salaries. In 2017–18, the educators with the highest average annual salary worked in either suburban schools, high schools, or large schools with more than 1,000 enrolled students.

Figure 1. Average annual base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by selected school or teacher characteristics: 201718

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Horizontal bar chart showing average annual base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by selected school or teacher characteristics (community type, school level, student enrollment, years of experience, and highest degree earned) in 2017–18

Figure 2. Average annual salary of public school principals, by selected school or principal characteristics: 2017–18

[click figure image to enlarge]

Horizontal bar chart showing average annual salary of public school principals, by selected school or principal characteristics (community type, school level, student enrollment, years of experience, and highest degree earned) in 2017–18

Do teacher, principal, or school characteristics close the gender wage gap? (201718 NTPS)

We know that gender differences in average salary can be correlated with other related factors. For example, higher percentages of public primary school teachers (89 percent) and principals (67 percent) than of public middle or high school educators are female. Notably, figures 1 and 2 show that primary school educators earn less on average than their counterparts in middle or high schools. But these other related factors don’t entirely explain the male-female wage gap.


Comparing male and female public school teachers who have the same characteristics can, in some situations, narrow the wage gap (see figure 3).

Figure 3. Average base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics: 2017–18

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Line graph showing average base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics (years of experience, highest degree earned, community type, school level, and student enrollment) in 2017–18

Among teachers who have the same years of experience, salaries among newer teachers are more similar than among more experienced teachers. There is no significant difference in the average base teaching salary between male and female teachers with less than 4 years or 4–9 years of experience. However, the wage gap remains for the most experienced teachers. Female teachers with 10–14 years or 15 or more years of experience had lower average salaries ($56,990 and $66,600, respectively) than their male counterparts with the same amount of experience ($58,300 and $69,100, respectively).

Similarly, female teachers whose highest degree is bachelor’s degree or less or whose highest degree is a master’s degree earn less on average per year ($49,600 and $62,700, respectively) than male teachers with the same amount of education ($52,300 and $64,300, respectively).6 There is no significant difference between the average salaries of male and female teachers who have higher than a master’s degree.   

When looking at the data by key school characteristics, the wage gap also shrinks for at least some teachers. As discussed before, average base teaching salaries vary by school level and by school size. When comparing male and female teachers at the same school level, female primary school teachers earn less ($56,800) than male primary school teachers ($59,000). But there is no significant difference in average salaries between male and female middle and high school teachers, nor between male and female teachers who work at the same size schools.  

However, gender differences in average base teaching salary remain when school location is the same. In all four community types, female teachers have lower average salaries than their male colleagues: $62,300 vs. $64,400 in suburbs, $59,000 vs. $60,800 in cities, $50,200 vs. $52,600 in rural areas, and $50,100 vs. $52,000 in towns.


Female principals consistently have lower average annual salaries than male principals, even when controlling for other related factors (see figure 4).

Figure 4. Average annual salary of public school principals, by sex and selected school and principal characteristics: 2017–18

[click figure image to enlarge] 

Line graph showing average annual salary of public school principals, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics (years of experience, highest degree earned, community type, school level, and student enrollment) in 2017–18

Both the newest and the most experienced female principals are paid significantly less on average than their male peers with the same amount of experience. Similarly, when considering highest degree earned, the data show that female principals are consistently paid less on average than male principals. For example, female principals with a doctorate or first professional degree are paid less on average than male principals with the same education ($102,800 vs. $111,900).

For the most part, principal salaries by gender also remain significantly different when accounting for school characteristics. For example, when considering school location, the data show that female principals have lower average salaries than their male colleagues in all four community types: $105,200 vs. $112,700 in suburbs, $101,400 vs. $106,000 in cities, $85,800 vs. $92,000 in towns, and $82,200 vs. $87,500 in rural areas.

Although there is a lot more to learn about the complex levers that guide educator salaries, the data show that the male-female wage gap is still affecting female educators in many situations.  

Because of the NTPS, researchers, policymakers, and other decisionmakers can continue to analyze relationships that may influence the gender salary gap, including state-by-state differences, turnover rates, self-rated evaluation and job satisfaction scales, and data on the self-reported amount of influence an educator has over various school or classroom decisions. Results from the 2020–21 NTPS will be released in fall 2022 and will include information on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on public and private schools. Whether the gender wage gap changed over the last two school years is to be determined.

Be sure to follow NCES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to the NCES News Flash to receive notifications when these new data are released.


Facts and figures in this blog come from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) and its predecessor, the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). The NTPS is a primary source of information about K12 schools and educators across the United States and a great resource for understanding the characteristics and experiences of public and private school teachers and principals.


By Julia Merlin, NCES

[1] The Fifty-Second Congress. (1893). The executive documents of the House of Representatives for the second session of the Fifty-second Congress (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

[2] Blackwelder, J.K. (1998). Women of the Depression: Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929–1939. Texas A&M University Press.

[3] Adams, K.H., and Kenne, M.L. (2015). Women, Art, and the New Deal. McFarland.

[4] Kaestle, C. F. (1983). Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society: 1780–1860. Macmillan.

[5] For the purpose of this blog post, only regular, full-time teachers are included in any salary calculations. A regular full-time teacher is any teacher whose primary position in a school is not an itinerant teacher, a long-term substitute, a short-term substitute, a student teacher, a teacher aide, an administrator, a library media or librarian, another type of professional staff (e.g., counselor, curriculum coordinator, social worker) or support staff (e.g., secretary), or a part-time teacher. For average base salary, teachers who reported zero are excluded from analysis. Summer earnings are not included.

[6] Notably, most teachers have earned a bachelor’s (39 percent) or a master’s (49 percent) degree as their highest level of education. The percentage distribution of teachers whose highest degree earned is a bachelor’s or a master’s degree does not meaningfully differ by gender.

LGBTQ+ Education Research: Why I’m Proud to be a Part of It

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In celebration of PRIDE month, three IES training fellows reflect on the state of education research for LGBTQ+ students and what motivates them to pursue this area.

Damon R. Carbajal (he/él) is a community scholar, educator, activist, and alumni of the University of New Mexico, Research Institute for Scholars of Equity (RISE) program, residing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, whose work focuses on recentering intersectional identities in and out of educational spaces. Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth (they/them), Diné, completed the University of Arizona Pathways to Doctoral Studies in Education-Related Fields and is currently a PhD candidate at both Oregon State University and Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) as a Cotutelle Student, whose research focuses on the Indigenous urban experience, Two-Spirit wellbeing and Two-Spirit in urban areas, Relocation Act 1950, Native and Queer urbanization, BIPOC masculinities, and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Sarah Rosenbach (she/her) is a PhD candidate in psychology and social intervention at New York University, where she was a fellow in the NYU Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in Education Sciences during her first 4 years of graduate study, and is currently based in Honolulu, HI and researching evidence-based ways in which schools and other youth-serving settings can support the healthy development of LGBTQ adolescents.


What excites you about education research relevant to LGBTQ+ communities?

Damon R. Carbajal (DRC): As a gay, queer, Chicanx person, I have not had the easiest time in school and often felt I was voiceless. I see research as a powerful tool to help create safer spaces for all in education spaces. This is what keeps me going and what creates my deep connection to my research because I know that it helps to create spaces and opportunities that I did not have. Allowing folks to voice their lived experiences is critical for the growth of academia, research, and individuals. Overall, my excitement comes from the community we form when decentered voices are recentered in holistic ways that project the beauty and resilience of the queer community. This recentering is at the heart of all my work, and the impact is critical.


Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth (STK): What excites me is that I am able to bring in my own experience and experiences of other Queer Indigenous people into the light. Many Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit Indigenous people have been erased, even by our own communities. Two-Spirit is an umbrella term used to signify the vast diverse set of genders, sexes, and sexualities within Indigenous communities pre-colonialization. We use this term to bring that history into the present. I focus on urban Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ communities because many of us have been or are displaced and removed based on our diverse gender, sex, and sexuality selves and we need to (re)establish communities of care. Through our tracing of histories and lineages, we can see that Two-Spirit people are vital to our true restoration of Indigenous sovereignty.


Sarah Rosenbach (SR): I am excited for the field to begin to translate this evidence to practice in teams of interdisciplinary researchers who are in partnership with educators and community organizations. Schools are perhaps the single most studied context for LGBTQ+ youth. Together with my collaborators, I have contributed to a growing body of research focused on the state of LGBTQ+ youth experiences in schools. I have been fortunate to work with an amazing team of LGBTQ+ folks in education, psychology, public health, and sociology. The ability to show up to this work as my true self and to work towards improving school experiences for LGBTQ+ youth in community is very meaningful to me. With a groundswell of empirical support building across disciplines, we have reached a critical turning point for action. I am excited for the field to begin to translate this evidence to practice in teams of interdisciplinary researchers who are in partnership with educators and community organizations. I believe that it is time for us to turn to creating and testing school-based prevention, intervention, and health promotion programs that specifically examine – and alter - the ways that schools socialize cisnormativity and heteronormativity in the lives of all youth.

How has being a member of or ally to the LGBTQ+ community influenced your path as researcher?

DRC: As a gay, queer, Chicanx researcher, educator, and activist, I believe that being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has influenced my research in a variety of ways including the research I focus on as well as the idea of even jumping into research. When I first started college, I wanted to be a high school teacher and had not thought about anything else. During undergrad, I had research fellowships and mentorship experiences that helped me realize that I could create more safe spaces and reach more students and educators through a research path. This realization was life altering and allowed me to grow into a researcher whose queer and BIPOC roots grant me insights that are new and authentic because of my social awareness and new perspectives. As a researcher, I can draw upon my life experiences, which include trauma, assault, and other facets of life—facets of my life that are sadly the reality of many who are in the LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.

Because of my identity, I feel I am more likely to pursue topics that have often been overlooked or viewed as taboo. For example, my thesis examined LGBTQIA+ Mexican/x youth experiences of mental health in and out of schooling settings. Highly intersectional research such as this is not heavily represented in the field, except by researchers who are often members of the non-dominant communities. Overall, being an LGBTQ+ researcher can be taxing as I am often the only queer and/or Chicanx person in research spaces, but always highly rewarding because I am able to make a mark in the research world for and by my community.

STK: Being Queer and Nadleeh (Two-Spirit in Navajo language) influences my research because these aspects of me grant me the ability to draw upon stories and experiences to navigate the world outside of western construction of gender, sex, and sexuality. My research journey began in 2016. I was not feeling safe as a Queer, Brown, multiracial person, and I knew that others were feeling the same way, especially as policy debates and political actions, such as those reported by the Fenway Institute, took shape. We were being marginalized and erased, and this impacts mental health. Research indicates that LGBTQ+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers and that Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth are 2.5 more likely than their non-Indigenous LGBTQ+ peers. The Trevor Project survey also found that Indigenous youth who were accepted by their family and communities were nearly 60 percent less likely to attempt suicide. These numbers have really fueled the work that I do because I am able to use my voice and scholarship to give back to my communities and address their needs and support them. My identities have and continue to influence my path as a researcher because this is for all my community to move from having to survive to beginning to thrive. When I am done with my PhDs, I aim to continue writing, teaching, and working with my community through my research on Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit identity, as we are vital to Indigenous futures.

SR: We are seeing a nationwide onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation aimed at dismantling hard-earned yet tenuous civil rights and coordinated with efforts to dismantle culturally responsive pedagogy and antiracist education. It is critical for all of us, those in the LGBTQ+ community and allies, to speak out in support of all LGBTQ+ youth with our local reporters, school boards, city councils, and state legislatures. But this is just one part of the solution. We must continually ask our LGBTQ+ community, “How may I better serve you?” and let the answers drive our scholarship and our activism. We must partner with movements in antiracist and decolonizing education. Together, we can leverage our scholarship and activism to reimagine our education systems towards justice for all.

Produced by Meredith Larson (, a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants.

LGBTQ+ Education Research: Why I’m Proud of the Potential

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In celebration of PRIDE month, two IES training fellows reflect on the state and future of education research for LGBTQ+ students and those who support them. Erin Gill is a predoctoral fellow in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Interdisciplinary Training Program for Predoctoral Research in the Education Sciences where she is studying the policies and practices that influence LGBTQ+ students K-12 school experiences and well-being. Laura Bellows completed her PhD in public policy at Duke University and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Virginia Education Science (VEST) Interdisciplinary Post-Doctoral Training Program. In the fall, she will join the RAND Corporation.

Erin Gill PhotoWhat excites you about education research relevant to LGBTQ+ communities?

Erin Gill (EG): There has never been a more critical moment to focus on the needs of LGBTQ+ youth, and I am excited by education research that aids educators to counter anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and helps them identify effective practices to support the needs of LGBTQ+ youth.

Our LGBTQ+ students need researchers, policymakers, and educators to understand their lives and experiences and advocate for meaningful change in K-12 schools because they deserve schools free of bullying and harassment where they can see themselves reflected in the lessons and curricula, express themselves and their identities, access facilities, participate in school activities and traditions, and be happy and healthy. Our teachers also need support. Although many educators seem eager to advocate for LGBTQ+ students and their needs, they can’t do so if they fear losing their jobs or are pushed out of schools. Educators, whose jobs may be on the line, need research that backs their LGBTQ+-inclusive practices (for example, inclusive pronoun use, integrating LGBTQ+ voices in lessons, and facilitating discussions about identity). Research can help educators identify effective practices and push back against individuals seeking to restrict LGBTQ+ students’ rights in schools.   

Laura Bellow PhotoLaura Bellows (LB): Conversations on LGBTQ+ issues have shifted dramatically since I first came out in 2003. Today, more youth are coming out at younger ages, and many youth and young adults have rejected binary systems of sexual orientation and gender entirely. However, experiences vary dramatically across the country. In some communities, students are learning about LGBTQ+ communities in the classroom—something I never would have thought possible 20 years ago as a high school student in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At the same time, some states are actively pursuing and passing policies meant to marginalize LGBTQ+ students.  In my view, this new context should guide future directions in education research. First, to understand the needs of LGBTQ+ students, researchers need to understand this changing population. Second, we need to understand the impacts of these negative policies on well-being. And third, we need to understand how schools can help support LGBTQ+ students, parents, and school personnel, particularly in states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

What types of education research do you think would benefit LGBTQ+ students and communities?

EG: Research on how location and context affect LGBTQ+ students and educator-allies experiences would help schools identify how best to support their LGBTQ+ students.

As a former rural educator, I felt that  LGBTQ+-inclusive policies and practices that work in urban schools may not work for rural LGBTQ+ youth. For example, Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) are often safe spaces for urban LGBTQ+ youth, but rural LGBTQ+ youth may not be as safe because they may lack anonymity due to the small and tight-knit nature of rural communities. LGBTQ+ students experience vastly different school environments. Some schools protect them from discrimination and harassment, openly talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom, and provide gender-inclusive facilities. At other schools, the students face bullying, never have an opportunity to discuss or express their gender or sexuality, and don’t have access to gender-affirming facilities. We need research on the state, community, and school context that affect LGBTQ+ student experiences and outcomes of LGBTQ+-inclusive practices.

What might be a barrier to conducting education research relevant to LGBTQ+ students and communities?

LEB: One major barrier facing researchers interested in education research and LGBTQ+ communities is a lack of data.

District and state longitudinal data systems enable K-12 education researchers to study a variety of questions about teachers, other school personnel, and students. Because these systems capture the entire population of students and school personnel, they lend themselves well to examining smaller populations. Yet data systems contain almost no information related to LGBTQ+ status. However, we must balance this concern with real concerns about disclosing LGBTQ+ status. LGBTQ+ teachers may be nervous about disclosing in official data systems, given past initiatives to ban LGBTQ+ individuals from teaching or portray LGBTQ+ teachers as predatory. LGBTQ+ students may also feel uncomfortable identifying as LGBTQ+ in their official records. At the same time, students are still exploring and discovering their identities. Students must be able to update their answers to questions around sexual orientation and gender identity in official systems with some frequency if such data are collected.

Despite these concerns, I am hopeful there is a path forward for creating administrative data systems that can both illuminate the dynamic experiences of LGBTQ+ populations in schools and also protect their confidentiality.

Produced by Meredith Larson (, a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants.


Gender-Sexuality Alliances as a School Resource for LGBTQ+ Students

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, we interviewed Dr. Paul Poteat, professor at Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, about his IES-funded research on Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs)—his motivation, what he’s learned so far, and future work that needs to be done.

What led you to focus on GSAs as a school resource for LGBTQ+ students?

Many LGBTQ+ students continue to experience discrimination at school, but schools are also a place where they can access support and resources from trusted adults and their peers. Gender-Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) have formed as clubs in an estimated 37% of U.S. secondary schools. GSAs aspire to be youth led with advisor support and meet for up to an hour during or after school on a weekly or biweekly basis. They provide a space for LGBTQ+ students and their heterosexual and cisgender peer allies to socialize, support one another, discuss and learn about LGBTQ+ topics, and engage in advocacy and awareness raising to promote more welcoming schools. In these ways, GSAs are in a promising position to reach and support LGBTQ+ students at a large scale.

What do we know about GSAs and student wellbeing? What do we still need to know?

Most GSA research has considered student wellbeing in relation to GSA presence at their school. Students in schools with GSAs report greater perceptions of safety and less victimization than students in schools without GSAs. Among students who are GSA members, many report feeling a sense of empowerment from their involvement.

Although these findings have been encouraging, there are some important limitations to what we know about student experiences in GSAs and how GSAs may promote wellbeing. For instance, GSAs vary to some extent in what they do—they are not standardized programs—and even members in the same GSA can report different experiences. We have less of an understanding of what specific GSA experiences are associated with any beneficial outcomes, especially because most GSA research has relied on cross-sectional data. We still need to identify specific mechanisms by which GSAs may promote wellbeing. It is also unclear whether some members benefit more from their GSA involvement than others.

How is your project adding to our understanding of GSAs?

Our project aims to identify specific practices and experiences in GSAs that predict social-emotional outcomes and academic performance for GSA members over time. We plan to—

  • Focus on perceived support from peers and advisors, leadership roles, involvement in advocacy and awareness-raising efforts, and perceived climate of the GSA. We are looking at these processes in two ways: on a week-to-week basis over an intensive 8-week period of the school year and more broadly at three time points spanning the school year.
  • Identify whether GSA experiences—from meeting to meeting or over the school year—go on to predict greater school belonging, hope, positive affect, and self-worth, which in turn could predict better academic outcomes, such as greater class engagement and lower absenteeism.
  • Consider whether GSA experiences buffer the negative effects of victimization on these outcomes. We have been working with a diverse group of GSAs across the state of Massachusetts, in New York City, and in San Diego.

How could the data from your project be useful for GSAs and inform ongoing research? 

As an Exploration grant, the data from our project could provide a foundation to develop and evaluate programs tailored for GSAs. To do this, we first need a deeper understanding of GSAs and any naturally occurring processes within them that may predict various social-emotional and academic outcomes among members. We can then develop programs GSAs would be interested in adopting that target and enhance these processes with greater precision. On a practical level, our findings could be useful to GSA advisors and student leaders by identifying the types of conversations, activities, and structures to their meetings that could benefit their members. Ultimately, more research in this area could support GSAs as they seek to identify and meet the range of needs and interests of their members, capitalize on the strengths that members bring, and promote their thriving and academic success.

Paul Poteat is a professor in the Counseling, Developmental & Education Psychology Department at Boston College. He conducts research on the school-based experiences of sexual and gender minority youth.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (, co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and Emily Doolittle (, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research.