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Highlights

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is the federal government's core postsecondary data collection program. Approximately 6,800 postsecondary schools are required to complete annual IPEDS surveys on topics including enrollment, graduation rates, and finances. As policymakers have sought additional data to increase accountability in postsecondary education, the number and complexity of questions on the IPEDS surveys have increased. GAO was mandated to examine: (1) the time and cost burden for schools completing the IPEDS surveys, (2) options for reducing this burden, and (3) the potential benefits and challenges of collecting additional graduation rate data. To do this, GAO interviewed staff from 22 postsecondary schools, reviewed existing estimates of the IPEDS time and cost burden, interviewed officials at the Department of Education (Education) and Office of Management and Budget, and interviewed higher education associations and higher education software providers.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education To improve the availability of reliable information to Congress and postsecondary institutions about postsecondary institutions' data collection efforts, the Secretary of Education should direct the Commissioner of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to reevaluate the official IPEDS burden estimates and establish new baseline estimates as appropriate.
Closed - Implemented
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has developed revised IPED burden estimates that were approved by OMB on June 2, 2011. NCES used a new methodology to estimate the burden. As a result, the average burden estimate increased significantly from 19-41 hours to 50-212 hours.
Department of Education To help reduce the reporting burden on postsecondary institutions, the Secretary of Education should direct the Commissioner of NCES to improve how NCES communicates IPEDS training opportunities to a wider range of institutions, particularly smaller career and technical institutions outside of traditional higher education networks.
Closed - Implemented
In FY12, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported on numerous efforts to expand IPEDS training opportunities beyond traditional associations and to smaller schools. These included: 1) special training announcement emails for all IPEDS workshops sent to all IPEDS keyholders (institutional staff responsible for IPEDS data submission) and targeted emails sent to special populations. Travel grants are also available so that keyholders from smaller institutions with fewer resources can attend; 2) IPEDS training workshops that are co-hosted by another organization. Co-hosting organizations announce the IPEDS workshops to their memberships, but they are open to all IPEDS keyholders, regardless of membership in the co-hosting organization. NCES is expanding the list of co-hosting organizations and states, including organizations such as the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and American Association of Cosmetology Schools, Tribal Colleges, and various state boards higher education departments; 3) independent workshops (no co-hosting organization) in Puerto Rico and Arizona, including one for 2-year institutions; and 4) IPEDS training has become a regular part of the agenda at the FSA Conference. At smaller schools, IPEDS keyholder duties are often performed by the institution's financial aid officer.
Department of Education To help reduce the reporting burden on postsecondary institutions, the Secretary of Education should direct the Commissioner of NCES to coordinate with higher education software providers to help enhance the quality and reliability of IPEDS reporting features.
Closed - Implemented
In October 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a vendor page within the IPEDS website that includes a list of resources available to software vendor's. This includes links to the IPEDS Data Provider Center which contains survey materials and the data collection schedule, IPEDS training opportunities, and the option to "register" as IPEDS-related vendors and receive email notifications about any new information and resources that are posted.

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