The facts about the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data

The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) collects data only on first-time, full-time students registering in the fall term.

The database excludes students who transfer schools, start at community or other colleges then transfer to a four-year university, temporarily withdraw from school for personal or military-related reasons, attend part-time, or those who pursue on-the-job training or vocational certificates.

Student who take a non-traditional path to college fit most of the above criteria and are not counted, making graduation rates on military and veteran students highly flawed and not properly documented.

Apollo Education Group and University of Phoenix have worked earnestly to fix this longstanding problem, calling on federal government agencies and Congress to more effectively share and collect data to eliminate the flawed metrics used today. Here is what other influential voices are saying about the problem:

“Not all students take a linear path in their pursuit of higher education. Many students work full-time and are balancing family obligations while also attending school.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan April 11, 2012 press release titled, “Education Department Releases Action Plan To Improve Measures of Postsecondary Success.”


“Moreover, when the Department of Veterans Affairs recently launched its new comparison tool and the raw data used to compile it, the VFW was surprised to learn of all the programs across higher education that reported abysmally low graduation rates. The VFW took a closer look at many of the schools who reported graduation rates of five percent or lower, only to realize on the Department of Education’s College Navigator website that each of these schools were likely comprised of non-traditional students, like student veterans. Because of these unique circumstances, we often joke that among all of the veterans in our office, none of us are considered a college graduate by Department of Education standards.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars congressional testimony on 03/25/2014 with respect to H.R. 2942; H.R. 3056; H.R. 3614; H.R. 4031; H.R. 4037; H.R. 4038; H.R. 4147; H.R. 4150; and H.R. 4151.


“Graduation rates are a flawed statistic as currently compiled by Department of Education since the department only tracks first-time, full-time college attendees. The VFW believes today’s graduation statistics are nearly irrelevant for non-traditional students like student-veterans and could skew decisions when used to evaluate how schools best serve their student-veterans.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars congressional testimony on 03/08/2012 with respect to H.R. 3329, H.R. 3483, H.R. 3610, H.R. 3670, H.R. 3524, H.R. 4048, H.R. 4051, H.R. 4052, H.R. 4057 and H.R. 4072.


“The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is the database most frequently used to track postsecondary student outcomes. IPEDS is a collection of interrelated annual surveys sent to every college, university, and technical and vocational institution that participates in the federal student financial aid programs. These schools are required to report data on enrollments, program completions, graduation rates, and institutional data. However, IPEDS only collects data on first-time, full-time students entering in the fall term. IPEDS excludes all students who transfer schools, start at community colleges then transfer to a 4-year university, temporarily withdraw from school for personal or military-related reasons, attend part-time at some point in their academic career, and students whose degree goals are Associate level degrees, job training, or vocational certificates.”

Student Veterans of America congressional testimony on 06/20/2013: The Value of Education for Veterans at Public, Private and For-Profit Colleges and Universities.


“Unfortunately, many states have big gaps in tracking student progress through college, as does the federal IPEDS data system. We don’t universally collect and report graduation rates for part-time students, transfer students, or disaggregate graduation rates for low-income students.”

U.S. Department of Education Deputy Secretary Tony Miller prepared remarks on 11/30/2010 at the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid Conference.


“But the federal government also can engage in a more active role in ensuring that colleges receive better data on the progress of their students than it does at present. There is no national system that tracks students through postsecondary education. While efforts continue to be made to change this, those efforts are still being met with strong resistance. In addition, the ability for institutional officials to know about the workforce (primarily earnings) outcomes of program completers is patchy, if slowly improving. While education should be far more expansive in its ambitions than simply providing job training, we also believe that obtaining data about the employment outcomes of our students is essential for students, institutions, policymakers, employers, and the general public. The federal government can play an essential role in this regard.”

American Association of Community Colleges congressional testimony on 06/20/2013: The Value of Education for Veterans at Public, Private and For-Profit Colleges and Universities


“The graduation, transfer-out rates, and retention rates are the only IPED S data that track students longitudinally. For selective four-year institutions the graduation, transfer-out, and retention rates are generally useful. Most students at selective four-year universities attend for the purpose of earning a degree, attend on a full-time basis each year, enter well-prepared to succeed at college-level work, and enjoy a relatively high level of institutional resources. However, the rates are less valid for making inferences about student outcomes in less selective four-year institutions and in community colleges, especially if such outcomes are compared to those students in selective institutions. Students at less-selective institutions are less likely to attend full-time and, at community colleges, attend for a variety of purposes. At less-selective institutions, students also enter far less prepared for college-level work and most of these institutions have far fewer resources than do selective institutions.

“The IPED S data make it all too easy to make comparisons on student outcome measures and draw conclusions that ignore substantive differences across states and institutions that may invalidate such conclusions.”

“The flaws in the data currently collected by IPED S for students in general, and for community college students in particular, have received a good deal of attention. It is, therefore, not surprising that alternative methods have been proposed. Recommendations have ranged from completely replacing the current data collection system to modifying what data are collected.”

California State University Sacramento Community College Student Outcomes: Limitations of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and Recommendations for Improvement. August 2009.


“We support the Department’s proposal to expand its database beyond “first-time, full-time” students by collecting information on returning (i.e., “non-first-time”) and part-time students similar to the information collected on first-time, full-time students. This is an important and long overdue change. Many students, including veterans, attend college part-time, and many return to college after military service or another break.”

Public comment on Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (FR Doc# 2013-24041) by Association of the U.S. Navy Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Initiative to Protect Student Veterans, University of San Diego Law School, National Guard Association of the U.S., Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success, Veterans for Common Sense, Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund, VetJobs, VetsFirst, a Program of United Spinal Association, and Vietnam Veterans of America.