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ED Releases Feasibility Study on IPEDS Student Unit Records

March 23, 2005

A report examining the feasibility of replacing the student-related data components of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System with student unit records was submitted to Congress by the U.S. Department of Education on March 21. However, before any IPEDS redesign could move forward, legislative authorization through amendments to the Higher Education Act and an appropriation of funds by Congress would be needed.

If authorized and funded, the student unit record system would replace the following IPEDS surveys currently used to collect data from institutions in aggregate form: 

  • Fall Enrollment
  • Completions
  • Student Financial Aid
  • Graduations Rates

Under the proposal, data would be collected at the student level, including elements such as Social Security numbers, individual course loads and completions, and individual financial aid package information.  All students, even those that receive no federal student assistance, would be included.

The study looked at whether such a systemcould  be constructed technically as well as whether oneshould  be developed by soliciting the input of states, institutions, and other key stakeholders. Availability of such data would allow for more accurate calculations of enrollment patterns, including transfer rates and co-enrollments, completion and persistence patterns, and for the first time, an institution’s net price of attendance.

However, the challenges of implementing such a system are many, including privacy and confidentiality of sensitive data, increased institutional burden, technical issues across varying information systems within institutions, and timing. For many colleges and universities, student privacy issues and data security were of significant concern. ED argues in the report, however, that the National Center for Education Statistics has adequate safeguards to protect student privacy and ensure data security. Critics of the proposed plan remain skeptical, fearing that students' private information will not be used for intended educational purposes.

"Feasibility of a Student Unit Record System Within the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System" can be downloaded from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics Web site.

The NACUBO contact is Jessica M. Shedd, director, research and policy analysis.