As with any task worth doing, it’s a good idea to review the process and prepare to do it better the next time. Why is this assessment so important? Simply stated, all tasks performed in the workplace come at a cost. When it comes to IPEDS, the question that should be asked is, “What is our IPEDS surveys costing us?”
- Gathering the data
- Reviewing the results
- Correcting the data errors
- (Occasionally) retooling the collection method
- Restarting the process until satisfactory results are achieved
- Submitting the data & explaining significant differences
An important part of the assessment is asking how many times you hit Step 5 and needed to restart the process. Obviously, the more times you had to start over, the greater the costs incurred. Keep that in mind as we review the types of costs that must be considered when evaluating your IPEDS process.
What does IPEDS really cost?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could answer that question with a firm number? Perhaps $19,432.16? Sure, we could roll up our sleeves, break out the adding machine (Do those still exist? And if so, why?), and sum up the hourly rate of pay multiplied by the hours worked for each employee involved with IPEDS. That will certainly give us a number. But would that reflect what it really costs to submit the report?
No, it wouldn’t.
In addition to those man hours and salary costs (oh, and don’t forget the benefits), there are other costs associated with the effort that goes into completing IPEDS surveys.
Opportunity cost is best described as “what we’re NOT doing while working on IPEDS.” Every person that was part of the process – whether requesting, pulling, crunching, reviewing, or correcting data, or reviewing and approving surveys – could have been working on other tasks. Perhaps they could have devised a way to admit more new students, retain more current students, improve graduation rates, or reduce employee attrition. Maybe they would’ve had the time and opportunity to perform other cost-saving measures or revenue-generating activities. The possibilities are endless, and they all affect the overall cost.
Frankly, the process of compiling the necessary reports and submitting accurate IPEDS surveys is emotionally taxing. Institutions that have the process down pat and have exquisitely clean data are few and far between. For most, this is a difficult and stressful process – and sometimes an exhausting one.
This emotional cost, no doubt, affects employee morale. As such, IPEDS seasons are typically preceded by a period of dread, are an emotional roller coaster when in process, and often require a period of mental – if not emotional – recovery afterwards.
Fines/Loss of Funding
Hopefully the least prevalent cost, but a potential cost nonetheless, is the cost that could result from late and/or inaccurate IPEDS survey data. This, of course, is a worst-case scenario in which the government penalizes your institution with a hefty fine or loss of funding. Though this is a cost that can certainly be avoided when the right processes are in place, it is still a cost that needs to be taken into consideration.
For those unfortunate enough to be hit with fines or a loss of funding, there is another cost that ties directly in: reputation cost. As a result of the financial penalties, the institution receives bad press and demotion – or even exclusion – from the various “Top College and University” lists. (This then leads to even more monetary damages as fewer students enroll, more students transfer out, and institutional revenues decrease.)
So, once again, we pose the question: How much does it REALLY cost to do IPEDS surveys? The answer is that everyone’s answers may vary. But, regardless, it’s definitely more than just money.
How might you reduce these costs? By analyzing and improving your processes and data, adopting and enforcing standards, communicating across all levels, and by arming yourselves with the best tools available. Such steps should result in lower personnel costs, restored opportunities, fresher employees, and a continued strong reputation.