Guide to Adult-Serving Colleges and Universities

Data Dictionary

Unless otherwise noted, definitions come from the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) 2019-2020 Survey Glossary

Academic program— An instructional program leading toward an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, doctor’s, or first-professional degree or resulting in credits that can be applied to one of these degrees.

Academic support— It includes the retention, preservation, and display of educational materials (for example, libraries, museums, and galleries); organized activities that provide support services to the academic functions of the institution (such as a demonstration school associated with a college of education or veterinary and dental clinics if their primary purpose is to support the instructional program); media such as audiovisual services; academic administration (including academic deans but not department chairpersons); and formally organized and separately budgeted academic personnel development and course and curriculum development expenses. Also included are information technology expenses related to academic support activities; if an institution does not separately budget and expense information technology resources, the costs associated with the three primary programs will be applied to this function and the remainder to institutional support. GASB institutions include actual or allocated costs for operation and maintenance of plant and depreciation.

Accelerated Program–Completion of a college program of study in fewer than the usual number of years, most often by attending summer sessions and carrying extra courses during the regular academic term.

Advanced Placement (AP)— College-level courses taught in high school. Students may take an examination at the completion of the course; acceptable scores allow students to earn college credit toward a degree, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential.

Apprenticeship— Apprenticeship is a proven approach for preparing workers for jobs while meeting the needs of business for a highly-skilled workforce. It is an employer-driven, “learn-while-you-earn” model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards. The model also involves progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages. (Source: Department of Labor)

Associate Degree— An award that normally requires at least 2 but less than 4 years of full-time equivalent college work.

Bachelor’s Degree— An award (baccalaureate or equivalent degree, as determined by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education) that normally requires at least 4 but not more than 5 years of full-time equivalent college-level work. This includes all bachelor’s degrees conferred in a 5-year cooperative (work-study) program. A cooperative plan provides for alternate class attendance and employment in business, industry, or government; thus, it allows students to combine actual work experience with their college studies. Also includes bachelor’s degrees in which the normal 4 years of work are completed in 3 years

Block scheduling— A scheduling format wherein students complete one course at a time over a period of three weeks. Classes typically meet at the same time each day, allowing students to have more control over their schedules outside of their academic work. (Source: Colorado College Block Plan)

Bootcamp— These intense courses combine theory and practice in a condensed format that encourages a learning environment where knowledge is shared by all. In contrast to broader, more deliberately-paced traditional classroom models, this innovative new format is taking education by storm through intensive, hyper-focused learning experiences. (Source: Pearson)

Certificate— A recognized postsecondary credential that is conferred upon the satisfactory completion of a postsecondary education program.

CLEP— CLEP (the College-Level Examination Program®) offers 34 exams that cover intro-level college course material. With a passing score on one CLEP exam, you could earn three or more college credits at more than 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities. (Source: College Board)

Clinical— Clinicals are the application of the skills that students learned in lab settings and classroom dynamics. (Source: Ameritech College of Healthcare)

Competency based education (CBE)— Systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education. (Source: The Glossary of Education Reform)

Cooperative education— A program that provides for alternate class attendance and employment in business, industry, or government.

Cost of attendance— The amount of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses that a full-time, first time degree/certificate-seeking student can expect to pay to go to college for an academic year. Costs reported by the institutions are those amounts used by the financial aid office to determine a student’s financial need.

Credit (Academic)— Recognition of attendance or performance in an instructional activity (course or program) that can be applied by a recipient toward the requirements for a postsecondary degree, diploma, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential, irrespective of the activity’s unit of measurement.

Credit course— A course that, if successfully completed, can be applied toward the number of courses required for achieving a postsecondary degree, diploma, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential, irrespective of the activity’s unit of measurement.

Credit for life experiences— Credit earned by students for what they have learned through independent study, noncredit adult courses, work experience, portfolio demonstration, previous licensure or certification, or completion of other learning opportunities (military, government, or professional). Credit may also be awarded through a credit by examination program.

Credit for military training— Postsecondary credit granted by institutions to military servicemen or veterans for experiences and training gained while in the service.

Credit for prior learning (see: AP, IB, CLEP, DSST, Portfolio, DANTES)– Education providers assess and award college credit where appropriate to students who have earned college credit for skills and knowledge gained outside the classroom. This process, which is also known as Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is especially helpful for adult learners who often already possess skills from previous work experiences. (Source: NCSL)

Credit hour— A unit of measure representing the equivalent of an hour (50 minutes) of instruction per week over the entire term. It is applied toward the total number of credit hours needed for completing the requirements of a degree, diploma, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential. 

DANTES— The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) is the Defense Human Resource Activity (DHRA) component responsible for managing a portfolio of education programs and services that help military members achieve their education and career goals. Defense Voluntary Education (VolEd) programs help military members gain the knowledge they need to complete education credentials and college degree programs, advance in their military careers, and successfully transition into the civilian workforce at the conclusion of their military service. (Source: DANTES)

Data dictionary— A file or a list that contains all known information about variables such as format, data type, field width, and source.

Daycare/Childcare— A student service designed to provide appropriate care and protection of infants, preschool, and school-age children so their parents can participate in postsecondary education programs.

Degree— An award conferred by a college, university, or other postsecondary education institution as official recognition for the successful completion of a program of studies.

Degree completion program— A degree completion program is an academic program specifically designed for students who have started, but not finished, a four-year undergraduate degree. By accepting some or all of the credits that a student has already earned from their previous education, degree completion programs offer students a faster and often less expensive alternative to starting over an undergraduate education from scratch. (Source: Northeastern University)

Degree/certificate seeking students— Students enrolled in courses for credit who are seeking a degree, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential. This includes students who: – received any type of federal financial aid, regardless of what courses they took at any time; – received any state or locally based financial aid with an eligibility requirement that the student be enrolled in a degree, certificate, or transfer-seeking program; or – obtained a student visa to study at a U.S. postsecondary institution High school students also enrolled in postsecondary courses for credit are not considered degree/certificate seeking.

Distance education— Education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Technologies used for instruction may include the following: Internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and video cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs, if the cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above. 

Distance education course— A course in which the instructional content is delivered exclusively via distance education. Requirements for coming to campus for orientation, testing, or academic support services do not exclude a course from being classified as distance education.

Distance education program— A program for which all the required coursework for program completion is able to be completed via distance education courses.

DSST— DSST exams are college subject tests that you can take to earn college credit for knowledge you acquired outside of a traditional classroom. There are 38 subject exams from which to select in disciplines such as Business, Humanities, Mathematics, Physical Science, and more. (Source: DANTES)

Dual credit— A program through which high school students are enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, taught at their high school, that fulfill high school graduation requirements and may earn the student college credits.

Educational offerings— Educational programs offered by postsecondary institutions that are occupational, academic, or continuing professional that qualify as postsecondary education programs OR recreational or avocational, adult basic, remedial instruction, high school equivalency, or high school programs that are not deemed postsecondary.

Entering students (undergraduate)— Students at the undergraduate level, both full-time and part-time, coming into the institution for the first time in the fall term (or the prior summer term who returned again in the fall). This includes all first-time undergraduate students, students transferring into the institution at the undergraduate level for the first time, and non-degree/non-certificate-seeking undergraduates entering in the fall.

Fall enrollment— This annual component of IPEDS collects data on the number of students enrolled in the fall at postsecondary institutions. Students reported are those enrolled in courses creditable toward a degree or other recognized postsecondary credential; students enrolled in courses that are part of a vocational or occupational program, including those enrolled in off-campus or extension centers; and high school students taking regular college courses for credit. Institutions report annually the number of full- and part-time students, by gender, race/ethnicity, and level (undergraduate, graduate, first-professional); the total number of undergraduate entering students (first-time, full-and part-time students, transfer-ins, and non-degree students); and retention rates. In even-numbered years, data are collected for state of residence of first-time students and for the number of those students who graduated from high school or received high school equivalent certificates in the past 12 months. Also in even-numbered years, 4-year institutions are required to provide enrollment data by gender, race/ethnicity, and level for selected fields of study. In odd-numbered years, data are collected for enrollment by age category by student level and gender.

Federal grant— Transfers of money or property from the Federal government to the education institution without a requirement to receive anything in return. These grants may take the form of grants to the institutions to undertake research or they may be in the form of student financial aid. 

Financial aid— Federal Work Study, grants, loans to students (government and/or private), assistantships, scholarships, fellowships, tuition waivers, tuition discounts, employer aid (tuition reimbursement) and other monies (other than from relatives/friends) provided to students to meet expenses. This excludes loans to parents.

First time student— A student who has no prior postsecondary experience (except as noted below) attending any institution for the first time at the undergraduate level. This includes students enrolled in academic or occupational programs. It also includes students enrolled in the fall term who attended college for the first time in the prior summer term, and students who entered with advanced standing (college credits or recognized postsecondary credential earned before graduation from high school).

First year student— A student who has completed less than the equivalent of 1 full year of undergraduate work; that is, less than 30 semester hours (in a 120-hour degree program) or less than 900 clock hours.

Four year institution— A postsecondary institution that offers programs of at least 4 years duration or one that offers programs at or above the baccalaureate level. Includes schools that offer post-baccalaureate certificates only or those that offer graduate programs only. Also includes free-standing medical, law or other first-professional schools.

Full-time student— Undergraduate: A student enrolled for 12 or more semester credits, or 12 or more quarter credits, or 24 or more clock hours a week each term. Graduate: A student enrolled for 9 or more semester credits, or 9 or more quarter credits, or a student involved in thesis or dissertation preparation that is considered full-time by the institution. Doctor’s degree – Professional practice – as defined by the institution.

Graduation rate— The rate required for disclosure and/or reporting purposes under Student Right-to-Know Act. This rate is calculated as the total number of completers within 150% of normal time divided by the revised adjusted cohort.

Hybrid— Programs or courses that provide instruction both in-person and online. (Source: NEBHE)

In-district/state student— The tuition charged by the institution to those students residing in the locality in which they attend school. This may be a lower rate than in-state tuition if offered by the institution.

Institution of higher education— A term formerly used in IPEDS and HEGIS to define an institution that was accredited at the college level by an agency or association recognized by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education. These schools offered at least a one-year program of study creditable toward a degree and they were eligible for participation in Title IV Federal financial aid programs.

Institutional grant— Scholarships and fellowships awarded to students from institutional resources that are restricted to student aid. Private institutions generally report these grants as allowances. If control over these resources passes to the student, the amount is reported as an expense.

Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)— The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), conducted by the NCES, began in 1986 and involves annual institution-level data collections. All postsecondary institutions that have a Program Participation Agreement with the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE), U.S. Department of Education (throughout IPEDS referred to as “Title IV”) are required to report data using a web-based data collection system. IPEDS currently consists of the following components: Institutional Characteristics (IC); 12-month Enrollment (E12);Completions (C); Admissions (ADM); Student Financial Aid (SFA); Human Resources (HR) composed of Employees by Assigned Position, Fall Staff, and Salaries; Fall Enrollment (EF); Graduation Rates (GR); Outcome Measures (OM); Finance (F); and Academic Libraries (AL).

International Baccalaureate (IB)–The International Baccalaureate® (IB) assesses student work as direct evidence of achievement against the stated goals of the Diploma Programme (DP) courses. DP assessment procedures measure the extent to which students have mastered advanced academic skills in fulfilling these goals, for example: analyzing and presenting information, evaluating and constructing arguments, solving problems creatively. Basic skills are also assessed, including: retaining knowledge, understanding key concepts, applying standard methods. In addition to academic skills, DP assessment encourages an international outlook and intercultural skills, wherever appropriate. Student results are determined by performance against set standards, not by each student’s position in the overall rank order. (Source: International Baccalaureate)

Internship— The position of a student or trainee who works in an organization, sometimes without pay, in order to gain work experience or satisfy requirements for a qualification.

Library— An organized collection of printed, microform, and audiovisual materials which (a) is administered as one or more units, (b) is located in one or more designated places, and (c) makes printed, microform, and audiovisual materials as well as necessary equipment and services of a staff accessible to students and to faculty. Includes units meeting the above definition which are part of a learning resource center.

MOOC— Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. MOOCs provide an affordable and flexible way to learn new skills, advance your career and deliver quality educational experiences at scale. (Source: MOOC)

Non-credit course— A course or activity having no credit applicable toward a degree, diploma, certificate, or other recognized postsecondary credential.

Non-degree seeking student— A student enrolled in courses for credit who is not recognized by the institution as seeking a degree or recognized postsecondary credential.

Occupational program/work-based learning— A program of study consisting of one or more courses, designed to provide the student with sufficient knowledge and skills to perform in a specific occupation.

Open educational resources (OER)— Open educational resources are materials for teaching or learning that are either in the public domain or have been released under a license that allows them to be freely used, changed, or shared with others. OER may include everything from a single video or lesson plan to a complete online course or curriculum and also include the software platforms needed to create, change, and share the materials. (Source: EdWeek)

Out-of-state tuition— The tuition charged by institutions to those students who do not meet the institution’s or state’s residency requirements.

Part-time student— Undergraduate: A student enrolled for either less than 12 semester or quarter credits, or less than 24 clock hours a week each term. Graduate: A student enrolled for less than 9 semester or quarter credits.

Pell Grant program— (Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IV, Part A, Subpart I, as amended.) Provides grant assistance to eligible undergraduate postsecondary students with demonstrated financial need to help meet education expenses.

Perkins Loan program— (Higher Education Act of 1965, Title IV, Part E, as amended, Public Laws 89-329, 92-318, et al; 20 USC 1087aa-1087hh.). Formerly known as National Direct Student Loans (NDSL), the Perkins Loan program provides low interest loans to eligible postsecondary students (undergraduate, graduate, or professional students) with demonstrated financial need to help meet educational expenses.

Portfolio— A portfolio in the prior learning assessment (PLA) process is a written presentation that you assemble and submit to earn credit for knowledge you have that is equivalent to what would be taught in a specific course. Each portfolio addresses a course description and learning outcomes through a written narrative and a collection of evidence that support your knowledge and background. The Portfolio Assessment process is managed, submitted and reviewed completely online. (Source: Thomas Edison State University)

Postsecondary education— The provision of a formal instructional program whose curriculum is designed primarily for students who are beyond the compulsory age for high school. This includes programs whose purpose is academic, vocational, and continuing professional education, and excludes avocational and adult basic education programs.

Postsecondary institution— An institution which has as its sole purpose or one of its primary missions, the provision of postsecondary education.

Practicum— A practical section of a course of study.

Private non-profit institution— A private institution in which the individual(s) or agency in control receives no compensation, other than wages, rent, or other expenses for the assumption of risk. These include both independent not-for-profit schools and those affiliated with a religious organization.

Program— A combination of courses and related activities organized for the attainment of broad educational objectives as described by the institution.

Public institution— An educational institution whose programs and activities are operated by publicly elected or appointed school officials and which is supported primarily by public funds.

Required fees— Fixed sum charged to students for items not covered by tuition and required of such a large proportion of all students that the student who does not pay the charge is an exception.

Scholarships— Grants-in-aid, trainee stipends, tuition and required fee waivers, prizes or other monetary awards given to undergraduate students.

Standardized admissions tests— Tests prepared and administered by an agency that is independent of any postsecondary education institution. Tests provide information about prospective students and their academic qualifications relative to a national sample. Examples are the SAT and the ACT.

State and local government grants— State and local monies awarded to the institution under state and local student aid programs, including the state portion of State Student Incentives Grants (SSIG). 

State grant/grants by state government–Grant monies provided by the state such as Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnerships (LEAP) (formerly SSIG’s); merit scholarships provided by the state; and tuition and fee waivers for which the institution was reimbursed by a state agency.

State of residence— A person’s permanent address as determined by such evidence as a driver’s license or voter registration. For entering freshmen, state of residence may be the legal state of residence of a parent or guardian.

Student services— A functional expense category that includes expenses for admissions, registrar activities, and activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to students emotional and physical well-being and to their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside the context of the formal instructional program. Examples include student activities, cultural events, student newspapers, intramural athletics, student organizations, supplemental instruction outside the normal administration, and student records. Intercollegiate athletics and student health services may also be included except when operated as self-supporting auxiliary enterprises. Also may include information technology expenses related to student service activities if the institution separately budgets and expenses information technology resources (otherwise these expenses are included in institutional support.) Institutions include actual or allocated costs for operation and maintenance of plant, interest, and depreciation.

Title IV institution— An institution that has a written agreement with the Secretary of Education that allows the institution to participate in any of the Title IV federal student financial assistance programs (other than the State Student Incentive Grant (SSIG) and the National Early Intervention Scholarship and Partnership (NEISP) programs)

Transcript— An official record of student performance showing all schoolwork completed at a given school and the final mark or other evaluation received in each portion of the instruction. Transcripts often include an explanation of the marking scale used by the school.

Transfer of credit— The policies and procedures used to determine the extent to which educational experiences or courses undertaken by a student while attending another institution may be counted for credit at the current institution.

Transfer/articulation agreement— A transfer agreement ensures that a student who completes an associate degree at a public community college will have satisfied all or most of the lower division general education (or core) requirements at the various baccalaureate institutions. The transfer student who has earned a degree covered by the guidelines will generally have junior-level standing (90 quarter credits or 60 semester credits) at the receiving institution. (Source: Seattle Central College

Tuition— The amount of money charged to students for instructional services. Tuition may be charged per term, per course, or per credit.

Tuition and fees— The amount of tuition and required fees covering a full academic year most frequently charged to students. These values represent what a typical student would be charged and may not be the same for all students at an institution. If tuition is charged on a per-credit-hour basis, the average full-time credit hour load for an entire academic year is used to estimate average tuition. Required fees include all fixed sum charges that are required of such a large proportion of all students that the student who does not pay the charges is an exception.

Tuition waiver— A form of financial aid that awards students full or partial tuition based on specific qualifications.

Two-year institution— A postsecondary institution that offers programs of at least 2 but less than 4 years duration. Includes occupational and vocational schools with programs of at least 1800 hours and academic institutions with programs of less than 4 years. Does not include bachelor’s degree-granting institutions where the baccalaureate program can be completed in 3 years.

Undergraduate— A student enrolled in a 4- or 5-year bachelor’s degree program, an associate’s degree program, or a vocational or technical program below the baccalaureate.

Veterans Administration education benefits— Those benefits available to military personnel and their families for financial assistance at approved postsecondary education institutions. There can be three types of beneficiaries: Surviving spouses and children; Discharged veterans; and Active military personnel in special programs.

Weekend/evening college— A program that allows students to take a complete course of study and attend classes only on weekends or only in the evenings.

Yellow Ribbon program— A voluntary program through which participating public and private institutions can provide veterans and eligible beneficiaries additional institutional aid to cover the costs of tuition and fees at their institutions. The Yellow Ribbon Program is a supplementary program to the Post 9/11 GI Bill coverage of in-state tuition and fees. The Department of Veterans Affairs matches the institutional aid provided beyond the in-state tuition and fees, but up to a certain limit each year.