Strategies for IPEDS planning infographic shortened

Planning for a Smooth IPEDS Data Collection Cycle in 2020-2021 + Coronavirus Special Edition

It’s hard to believe the 2020-21 IPEDS season is here already. If the new IPEDS collection year can sneak up this quickly, so too can deadlines. It happens to all of us. In this article, we provide some tips for Planning for a Smooth IPEDS Data Collection Cycle in 2020-2021 + Coronavirus Special Edition. The pandemic has disrupted … well … everything. So, in addition to sharing our best practices, tips, and tricks, we’ve taken the time to cull through ALL of the IPEDS directions and pull out all of the references to Coronavirus. This way — you can better plan and prepare for a successful IPEDS submission. Now you can see all of the IPEDS related guidance regarding the pandemic in one place. But before we get into IPEDS planning specifically, first, let’s talk in general about the importance of planning and some strategies for doing so. . .

IPEDS Planning for Success

Black And White Photo Of ClocksWhat is it about planning that some love and others are so averse to? Do some people secretly enjoy the thrill and drama of just barely making a deadline? [Will I make it? Will I miss the deadline? Who else can help? If I miss it, what are the consequences?] And even if we do get some twisted, secret enjoyment from narrowly making it in before the wire, wouldn’t we be much more productive if we weren’t regularly sprinting for a finish line?

Regardless of your reason for postponing planning, here are some suggestions to help you with planning to succeed this year:

  • For the planning haters: Great news!!! There are people around you who LOVE planning. Delegate this to them. They will be thrilled for two reasons: 1) they get to do what they love and 2) your lack of planning can irritate and frustrate your colleagues who are planners. So this is a win-win situation – you don’t have to plan and someone else who enjoys this work gets to do it. You can simply say, “I’d like to leverage your expert planning skills. Could you prepare a plan and have it ready X days before I need it?” You likely were not going to think about a plan until two days before, so you too are stretching yourself to begin a bit earlier. And – the planner won’t bug you before the deadline. Secret tip – planners stick to deadlines.
  • For the planning lovers: You can’t turn it off – you plan all of the time. And why would you turn it off? It doesn’t hurt anyone else to plan. It doesn’t cost anything more to think about plans in our head. In fact, most of us (yes, I’m on Team Planner) secretly develop plans so that we can effortlessly pull out a well-organized plan on a moment’s notice. The important thing for planning lovers to know is – everyone knows we are planners. And even thought it partially annoys them, it also it the thing that the planning haters wish they were better at. I shared with a very good friend and colleague about an experience where I was having difficulty communicating with a colleague. He said, “Kristina – I know exactly what that person was thinking. Us non-planners don’t want people to highlight our lack of planning.” It had never occurred to me that my enjoyment for planning was not enthusiastically embraced by others. That perspective has helped me to look for opportunities or requests to share my planning work, rather than sharing it whenever I want to. Secret tip – timing is everything. Be prepared, but wait until you are asked to share your plans.

Leveling Up: From Planning to Strategizing

No matter what level of planner you are, you should make the move from “planning to succeed” to “strategizing for success.” What’s the difference you ask? Great question! Strategy is choosing a path, whereas planning is maximizing the chosen path. Don’t I need both? Yes – both to some degree is important, but it is strategy that will help advance your organization and planning will move you through the process.

Now, if you really want kick-off the new IPEDS collection year, start working on moving from planning to strategizing. The to-do list of your plan will serve you well enough. But, you should be moving from outlining the steps it takes to get something done to identifying and taking the most effective steps to achieve your goals. Then, you’ll be helping your team reach its full potential.

Strategies for Success with IPEDS

Now let’s take that IPEDS planning to the next level and dig in deeper. In this next section, we discuss 5 strategies you can use during each of the three IPEDS seasons. Strategies for IPEDS planning infographic shortened

Planning Strategy #1: Review Survey Changes

One of the easiest and most valuable ways you can get ahead of the next data collection cycle is by checking out the current Changes to the IPEDS Data Collection document. It classifies the changes so you can quickly see additions/deletions/rewordings for each survey component, as well as a justification for the modification. This way, you don’t have to compare the data elements on your own and you won’t overlook a change until the last minute! We did a summary for you in the IPEDS 2020-21 Definitive Guide for Senior Leaders (see the IPEDS Changes section).

Planning Strategy #2: Pass the Information Along

The Changes to the IPEDS Data Collection document separates the changes by survey. So, you can easily share the appropriate information with the correct campus partners. Rather than just directing key stakeholders to the page, you can just copy and paste the relevant information into an email to the responsible parties for their respective surveys.

Planning Strategy #3: Put Internal Due Dates on Calendars

Different stakeholders at your campus have different roles to play in IPEDS, such as:

  • Pulling the data
  • Analyzing the data
  • Reviewing the submission

Calendar close-up symbolizing planning

For each role, add calendar invites to the key stakeholder’s calendar as a ‘friendly reminder.’ I recommend (and practice) putting a due date of four weeks before the IPEDS deadlines.

Why so far in advance? Well – four reasons:

  • The data have been ready for months by the time the IPEDS survey opens. So – four weeks is generous.
  • Stuff comes up for other people. If you don’t prioritize your institution’s IPEDS response, four weeks quickly turns into two days before the deadline. And one NEVER wants to miss a federal deadline.
  • You may run into issues or errors that require additional review/digging or calling the IPEDS help desk. You don’t want to find that out the night before the survey is due.
  • And this one a lot of people don’t know. If you get submit your ENTIRE season of IPEDS surveys three weeks before the deadline, IPEDS sends your President/CEO an email of appreciation. And they give props to the IPEDS Keyholder by name! Plus – you are cc’d on the email (sweet!). Here is the email I got last year as part of IEHE’s work with one of our partner institutions.

IPEDS CEO-President Kudos Letter


Planning Strategy #4: IPEDS is a Team Sport

By planning ahead for a smooth cycle and sharing changes, you show your colleagues that you are trying to make the IPEDS data collection process easier and less frustrating. In addition, you reinforce that IPEDS is a team effort and that you are available to support them, even if you’re not a Subject Matter Expert. Make it as easy for them as possible by providing a comprehensive email with:

  • the IPEDS website to enter in their information
  • Their log in and password.
  • IPEDS survey forms and instructions
  • Last year’s responses

Planning Strategy #5: Look at Your Data: What’s Changed?Laptop and books - maybe prepping for IPEDS

Plan for a little time to step back and look at the data after it has been prepared (but prior to submission). What has changed – good or bad – that helps provide context for the data? If data are presented as random numbers – 86, 75, 309 – then sharing them just makes you sound like a Sunday quarterback. Make sure the information is heard and understood by making the numbers meaningful with the context and stories.

Sometimes things are not what they seem. For example, suppose your numbers went up a little. Great! Improvement! But what if your biggest competitor institution’s went up a lot? Maybe not so much to brag about. It is important to have external context – which means networking and keeping up with your colleagues to know what is happening at other institutions.

Look to related data to help paint a more complete picture. Chances are your supervisor will ask about the same changes you are seeing and ask “Why?” Be prepared with an answer. Perhaps adding in finance data or student survey results will add more context and depth to the story. When you bring in additional elements, you set the stage for your colleagues to better connect with the data.

And since most IPEDS data ends up shared with the public in some way, shape or form – it is important to understand the changes before they are reported (and can’t be changed). Two examples of this are College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC) Lists and the Student Right to Know (SRTK) about Athletic Graduation Rates. Both of these public sources of information rely on IPEDS data. And they are often used by prospective students and parents as they make their college choices. So, it’s important to get your IPEDS data right to ensure accuracy of other reports you don’t have control over.

By the way, if you want to learn more about CATC Lists and SRTK about Athletic Graduation Rates, just check out IEHE’s definitive guides on the subjects here and here.

Bonus IPEDS Planning Section: Coronavirus Mentions in IPEDS Directions

The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated a number of updates to the IPEDS process. We know every office is busy during the pandemic, we’ve searched for “Coronavirus” in each survey and pulled out the references so you can easily see the information related to the Coronavirus reporting throughout ALL the surveys in one document.

To assist with your successful IPEDS planning, we’ve created the Coronavirus special edition guide by:

  • Two-year/less than two-year  institutions
  • Four-year institutions

The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.