Understanding the IPEDS Data Collection Process: A Guide for Financial Aid Professionals

Krystyna Dias .

As a financial aid professional, you play a crucial role in ensuring that your institution’s data is accurately reported through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). This data collection process is essential for maintaining transparency and providing vital information about postsecondary education in the United States. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the IPEDS data collection process effectively.

Step 1: Data Entry by Data Providers

Who: Keyholders and/or coordinators at your institution.

When: Throughout the year, during three survey collection periods – fall, winter and spring.

What to Do: Enter data into the IPEDS Data Collection System (DCS) either by direct entry or through file uploads. Each collection period focuses on different data components, so it’s important to adhere to the specific requirements and deadlines for each survey.

Step 2: Editing Survey Data

What Happens: Once your data is entered, the system will run a series of edit checks.

Purpose: These edit checks identify any discrepancies or issues in the data that need resolution.

Your Role: Review and address all issues flagged by the edit checks. This might involve correcting errors, providing explanations, or validating unusual data points. Your survey cannot proceed until all issues are resolved.

Step 3: Locking of Survey Data

When: After all edit checks have been satisfactorily addressed.

What to Do: The keyholder locks the survey data.

Significance: Locking the survey signifies that the data for that particular survey component is complete and accurate. This is a critical step before the data can be migrated.

Step 4: Migration to Collection Level Data Center

What Happens: Once locked, the data is copied over to the Collection Level Data Center within the DCS.

Access: Respondents can view their own data and the data of other institutions that have also migrated their data. This helps in ensuring the data’s comprehensiveness and comparability across institutions.

Step 5: Move to Data Center ‘Additional Early Release’

Purpose: To ensure data quality and accuracy before public release.

Process: Quality control (QC) procedures are conducted to review and accept the migrated data. These procedures check the functionality of edit checks, validate correct data migration, and require valid explanations for any data anomalies.

Timeline: This step generally takes about two months after all institutions’ data have been migrated. During this period, Early Release data is available for peer analysis but should not be used for aggregate estimates.

Step 6: Public Release of IPEDS Data

Final Step: The public release of IPEDS data.


“First Look” Publication: This online publication includes tables produced from the data.

Public Access: Data is moved from the Early Release level to the Publicly Released area of the Data Center. Here, the data is accessible to the general public without needing a username or password.

Importance: This final step ensures that the data is available for public consumption, supporting transparency and enabling research and analysis by various stakeholders.


Understanding and adhering to the IPEDS data collection process is vital for maintaining the integrity and accuracy of institutional data. By following these steps diligently, you help ensure that your institution’s information is accurately represented and contributes to the broader landscape of postsecondary education data in the United States. Have questions about this process or your role in facilitating the appropriate reporting of the information requested? Reach out to our team at HEAG for further guidance by emailing us at info@heag.us