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Each year, Peterson’s collects data from colleges and universities in order to provide students with the information they need to find and pay for school. You may be familiar with Peterson’s annual college guides and money-saving books, like Scholarships, Grants & Prizes, but did you ever wonder where the information listed in those resources comes from? 

“Peterson’s has been collecting data from colleges, universities, and scholarship providers since 1966. The information helps inform our website and reference books,” said Jeremy Serna, Director of Data Operations at Peterson’s.

To help our readers understand where we obtain our information, we asked Serna to explain how Peterson’s uses surveys to collect and publish data from higher education institutions. 

The need for Peterson’s data collection

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics maintains a database of data collected from colleges and universities known as the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Started in 1993, IPEDS survey data includes educational measurements like graduation rates, admissions statistics, and student financial aid. While the results of the IPEDS surveys are free to access, there is a significant lag in time between the date of data collection and date of publication. This is where Peterson’s can assist students and higher education professionals seeking up-to-date information.

“Peterson’s is able to publish the results of our surveys much faster than IPEDS. That’s what makes our products valuable. We use the data collected from colleges and universities to publish resources like our annual Four-Year Colleges guides and How to Get Money for College books.”

How does Peterson’s know which institutions to survey?

Higher education institutions must meet certain criteria in order to be included in Peterson’s data collection. 

“Peterson’s maintains a list of universities that we receive from the federal government. If an institution exists as a college or university according to the IPEDS database, we survey them. Each year, our research team cross-checks the list to verify each school’s accreditation status to ensure we’re providing quality data.” 

The data collection process

Using a trusted data collection platform, Peterson’s dispenses a survey campaign to retrieve data from the colleges and universities on their list. 

“The good news is, because Peterson’s has been doing this for so long, institutions expect our surveys. Once we have verified the point of contact from each school, we send out an email containing a link and passcode to access the survey.”

Peterson’s recently launched a new website, PetersonsSurveys.com, containing information to help education professionals through the data collection process.

“We’ve launched PetersonsSurveys.com to establish an online presence to assist institutions in completing our surveys. Schools can submit their survey responses directly through the website. We also provide downloadable PDF versions of our surveys to make it easier for institutions to collaborate on survey items.”

What does Peterson’s do with the data they collect?

Peterson’s uses the data collected to help students and families make informed decisions about their education. 

The process is beneficial to colleges and universities by providing exposure to prospective students researching various aspects of higher education, including Two-Year Colleges, Graduate & Professional Programs, and Scholarships.

What is the Common Data Set Initiative?

“The Common Data Set (CDS) is a collaboration between Peterson’s, U.S. News & World Report, and the College Board. Each year, CDS distributes a centralized survey (also called CDS), that is used for higher education data collection and reporting.”

The three publishing organizations behind CDS use a portion of the same items on their individual surveys. As a result, some institutions don’t see the need to complete separate surveys for each of the three organizations. It’s important to note that while each survey may contain a few similar items, each publisher also incorporates their own items into their surveys as well.

Serna mentioned users of the CDS website can expect exciting updates to come soon. 

“Looking ahead, we’d like the CDS website to be a place where universities can submit their common data set, instead of contacting each organization of the three advisory board organizations separately.”  

For more information on how Peterson’s collects college data, visit PetersonsSurveys.com.

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