The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is one of the most important tools for the U.S. Department of Education to collect data about the state of domestic higher education. All institutions that receive federal funding are mandated to participate in these surveys thrice a year–during Fall, Winter and Spring. Institutions need to ensure timely and accurate reporting of data across a wide variety of areas, including their organizational finances and characteristics, HR details, tuition fees, programs, student admissions, graduations, demographics and degrees awarded. Admittedly, this is not a compliance requirement to fulfill easily, at least not yet.
For most universities, this reporting imperative places a heavy burden on their time and resources, especially as submission deadlines draw near every collection season. What’s more, as IPEDS collection requirements themselves get updated every year, institutions must report new data parameters they may or may not have readily available. They also face the additional pressure of ensuring the reported data is not misrepresented or incomplete. Together, these requirements result in increased operating costs, even as educational institutions keep striving for better efficiency amid decreasing funding and rising student demands for affordable program fees.
However, thanks to advancements in data analytics today, adhering to IPEDS requirements and other regulations need not be as challenging as it has been in the past. Neither does it have to be a heavy drain on time and costs.
Typically, most big institutions use institutional research staff and do not have any dedicated compliance officers to undertake the lengthy process of data preparation for the survey. This preparation phase itself might include many stages involving the collection of data from disparate sources spread across different on-campus systems. For successful data gathering, research staff must collaborate extensively with multiple personnel across the institution who may otherwise be focused on their day-to-day responsibilities. Researchers then have to go through the aggregated data to validate the same and ensure it is complete and error-free. Gaps found, if any, are addressed immediately, often leading to time-consuming, manual data corrections and reconciliations. Once satisfactory data sets are obtained after multiple rounds of data corrections and massaging, they are ported or transformed – again manually at many places – into IPEDS-compliant formats before final submission.
Though technology has been used to transform the majority of the systems that provide inputs for compliance reporting, IPEDS reporting continues to be a long-drawn process. This is because existing technology interventions have not been designed to make compliance seamless or easier, and neither have they been implemented to allow for easy addition of new functionalities. As a result, silo-ed systems, outdated data governance, and ineffective data management practices make the entire reporting process inefficient and costly. Even where automation exists to some degree, the absence of reliable underlying data means staff have to review reports and alter the same before submission. Institutions, therefore, require a solution that can look at data management and analytics holistically across the organization, rather than as ad-hoc and patch solutions for individual data requirements.
Using modern technologies, this can be easily achieved, without requiring heavy investments or replacing legacy enterprise reporting systems. Data integration methodologies, analytics delivered as a service via the cloud, self-service dashboards and custom reporting are some options universities can consider to enable smooth compliance reporting. Along with more new-age data governance tools, educational institutions can also completely transform their enterprise data management to derive more value from their data. Data quality management can be made an integral part of built-in processes, increasing the reliability of reporting and compliance. Process automations can be introduced at strategic areas to streamline the overall compliance operations, reducing manual interventions drastically. Finally, education providers can use industry solutions and managed analytics services to further make the entire process simple and effortless.
Along with making IPEDS reporting easier, such technology solutions can help institutions pave the way for more advanced analytics capabilities that can be used for ensuring student success and realization of other institutional goals.