For more than 3 decades, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) has collected data from all postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV federal student aid programs, including universities, community colleges, and vocational and technical schools.
Since 2000, the 12 IPEDS survey components occurring in a given collection year have been organized into three seasonal collection periods: Fall, Winter, and Spring.
The timing of when data are collected (the “collection year”) is most important for the professionals who report their data to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). However, IPEDS data users are generally more interested in the year that is actually reflected in the data (the “data year”). As an example, a data user may ask, “What was happening with students, staff, and institutions in 2018–19?"
For data users, knowing the difference between the collection year and the data year is important for working with and understanding IPEDS data. Often, the collection year comes after the data year, as institutions need time to collect the required data and check to make sure they are reporting the data accurately. This lag between the time period reflected by the data and when the data are reported is typically one academic term or year, depending on the survey component. For example, fall 2021 enrollment data are not reported to NCES until spring 2022, and the data would not be publicly released until fall 2022.
After the data are collected by NCES, there is an additional time period before they are released publicly in which the data undergo various quality and validity checks. About 9 months after each seasonal collection period ends (i.e., Fall, Winter, Spring), there is a Provisional Data Release and IPEDS data products (e.g., web tools, data files) are updated with the newly released seasonal data. During this provisional release, institutions may revise their data if they believe it was inaccurately reported. A Revised/Final Data Release then happens the following year and includes any revisions that were made to the provisional data.
Sound confusing? The data collection and release cycle can be a technical and complex process, and it varies slightly for each of the 12 IPEDS survey components. Luckily, NCES has created a comprehensive resource page that provides information about the IPEDS data collection and release cycles for each survey component as well as key details for data users and data reporters, such as how to account for summer enrollment in the different IPEDS survey components.
Table 1 provides a summary of the IPEDS 2021–22 data collection and release schedule information that can be found on the resource page. Information on the data year and other details about each survey component can also be found on the resource page.
Table 1. IPEDS 2021–22 Data Collection and Release Schedule
Here are a few examples of how to distinguish the data year from the collection year in different IPEDS data products.
Example 1: IPEDS Trend Generator
Suppose that a data user is interested in how national graduation rates have changed over time. One tool they might use is the IPEDS Trend Generator. The Trend Generator is a ready-made web tool that allows users to view trends over time on the most frequently asked subject areas in postsecondary education. The Graduation Rate chart below displays data year (shown in green) in the headline and on the x-axis. The “Modify Years” option also allows users to filter by data year. Information about the collection year (shown in gold) can be found in the source notes below the chart.
Example 2: IPEDS Complete Data Files
Imagine that a data user was interested enough in 6-year Graduation Rates that they wanted to run more complex analyses in a statistical program. IPEDS Complete Data Files include all variables for all reporting institutions by survey component and can be downloaded by these users to create their own analytic datasets.
Data users should keep in mind that IPEDS Complete Data Files are organized and released by collection year (shown in gold) rather than data year. Because of this, even though files might share the same collection year, the data years reflected within the files will vary across survey components.
The examples listed above are just a few of many scenarios in which this distinction between collection year and data year is important for analysis and understanding. Knowing about the IPEDS reporting cycle can be extremely useful when it comes to figuring out how to work with IPEDS data. For more examples and additional details on the IPEDS data collection and release cycles for each survey component, please visit the Timing of IPEDS Data Collection, Coverage, and Release Cycle resource page.
Be sure to follow NCES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, follow IPEDS on Twitter, and subscribe to the NCES News Flash to stay up-to-date on all IPEDS data releases.
By Katie Hyland and Roman Ruiz, American Institutes for Research