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How to IPEDS Part I

Most, but not all, of the data visualizations on this site use data from IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.  And all of the visualizations (as I recall) use Tableau, a very powerful data visualization tool, especially for people like me who don't know how to write the code necessary in some software packages.

In this post, I'll start with a few of the easiest and quickest ways to get data out of IPEDS.  I'll follow it up with one that dives a little deeper for people who like the raw data for analysis.

The question I get asked most often is how I get the information out of IPEDS.  And that's not an easy thing to answer, as I use several of the methods available depending on what I'm doing.  Since you federal tax dollars have not yet been used to create an easy guide to IPEDS, I'm going to give you a primer on how to do the most simple things, and hope you'll do like I did, which is to learn it the hard way through trial and error once you get started.

Some tips before we start: You can use Excel to get the information you want, but it ends up being a lot easier if you start with a single download of institutional characteristics in a table and load it to an Access database, if you're even marginally proficient in that software.  But for now I'll presume you're not.

In the IPEDS Data Center you'll find several different ways to get IPEDS data  The ones in bold will be covered here:

  • Data Explorer
  • Publications and Products
  • Data Trends
  • Look Up an Institution
  • Statistical Tables
  • Data Feedback Report
  • Summary Tables
  • Custom Data Files
  • Compare Institutions
  • Complete Data Files
  • Access Database
Data Explorer has aggregated data in a report, and it's useful if you want to look up something quickly and if there is already a report that summarizes that information.  It's aggregate, so best for high level trends.  For instance, if you look at Degrees Awarded by Ethnicity, you'll see this.  Note that you can change the year displayed, and download the Excel file.

Publications and Products can be helpful, but you may end up going down a rabbit hole chasing what you want, only to find it's in a restricted file only available to researchers.  You can find links to things like The Condition of Education or the Digest of Education Statistics which is a data rich treasure trove of information, mostly designed to print ala 1998; if you want to analyze it, you have a LOT of data clean up to do.

Data Trends shows data over time, and it can be very helpful if you want to look at a single statistic in a time sequence. Click on one of the questions and you'll get your answer quickly.  You can filter and download the data if you wish.

Look Up an Institution allows you to select any single college or university and look at almost all of the information it reports to IPEDS in one place. It can be helpful when you want to look up a few facts about an institution quickly, but otherwise I find little value in it. 

Typing more of the name of the institution gets you easier results.  For instance, you'll get a long list if you just type "California."

But as you type, the list gets shorter.

After you make your selection, you'll get this, and you can click on the plus sign on the blue bars to expand.

Statistical Tables are less helpful for my work, but maybe they'll be good for you.  This is where you'll get your first chance to select a group of colleges, so I'll go over that first.  You can choose almost any combination of institutions, by location, type, sector, or almost any variable.

I like to us EZ Group and make a large selection: It's a lot easier to start with a large file and eliminate institutions than to try to augment it last.  But if you are certain you want a set of four-year public institutions in California that admit freshmen, for instance, you can get that like this.  The dialog box tells you you've selected 48 institutions.

In this case, you might want to look at total fall 2022 enrollment of undergraduates, in which case you'd select like this:

Keep clicking "Continue" until you get here, and specify the statistics you want.

And you'll get something like this.

Data Feedback Report is mostly helpful for college and university staff looking at their own numbers in comparison to self-identified competitor or aspiration institutions. CHE did a story on this, and you can read a few articles a month there if you give them your email name (however, if you work in higher ed, you really should subscribe anyway.) 

Summary Tables are very helpful for the casual user.  Specify the variable you want to look at (in this case it's enrollment by race and gender) and you'll get a nice summary table over time.

However, you can also get a summary of the institutions you selected (if they're still in memory) like this:

OR (this is the cool part) you can show individual data for a pre-selected set, or one you specify. 

Go ahead and practice getting information out of IPEDS like this.  You cannot break anything.  There is a Start Over button in case you get stuck. 

Good luck and check back soon to get the guide about the more powerful ways to extract information, coming soon.


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