Three Paths to Get the Answers You Need for Your IPEDS Survey



Many people see the new year as a clean slate, time to start a new diet or exercise program that won’t last the month. But if you are an IPEDS Keyholder, you know it’s the start of another IPEDS winter and spring survey collection.

Looking at the IPEDS calendar, you’ll see nine critical surveys come due over the next few months. Like you, IPEDS Keyholders across the U.S. are preparing to answer survey questions such as:

  • How much are full-time faculty paid?
  • How many students receive veteran’s benefits?
  • How many books are in the library?

These are challenging questions to tackle. If you’re not regularly working with this kind of data, you need to turn to your co-workers in Human Resources, Veterans Services, and Library Administration. They can help you ensure accuracy because they are familiar with the data to complete these survey questions.

Because you are intelligent and thoughtful:

  • Your email request is clear, brief, and specific
  • You state why this is important
  • You give them a reasonable deadline
  • You supply them with detailed instructions, definitions, and what was submitted last year (using the IPEDS website)

Off it goes, with a tick mark on your lengthy to-do list. Not so fast, friend. I’ve learned that when it comes to numbers, I’m in control. When it comes to people, it’s a different story.

Help to get help

Your email request is now buried in inboxes filled with other demands. It’s January and Veterans Services is busy helping vets overcome any barriers to academic success, Human Resources is swamped with applications, and your contact at the library is in the Caribbean taking an early spring break.

Will you get your answers in time to complete the IPEDS survey on time, if ever? The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t grant extensions for the IPEDS survey, so postponing the survey submission is non-negotiable. Do you flood your contacts with URGENT subject lines, copy their bosses, and hope you can squeak by just under the deadline?

Wouldn’t it be easier and less stressful if you could get the survey completed on the first email request? I’d like to share three methods that help me do this without overt threats or bribes.

Save for a rainy day

When I first was assigned to manage IPEDS 25 years ago, I thought my research skills were my strongest asset. But instead, I often draw on my ability to play well with others (rated “above average” by my Kindergarten teacher).

Your first job is to build up your bank account of goodwill. Every time you offer a useful piece of information, quickly respond to a request, or even share an interesting blog post (like this one), you make a deposit in your goodwill account.

Treat your key contacts as a salesperson would an elite customer. Take them to lunch, ask about their personal life, drop off donuts for their team. You’ll be building a relationship so that when you go asking for data, they know you, like you, and are willing to help you. If they seem particularly harried on the day you come by with donuts, ask, “Is there something I can help you with?”  When the time comes that you need help, they will greet your request with a smile instead of a groan.

Tough love

The second approach is to tackle your toughest tasks first – the requests from the very people you find most difficult. You know, the ones who talk behind your back, go over your head, or insist on unreasonable deadlines. If you don’t like their tactics, your initial reaction may be to put their “ask” on the bottom of your list. After all, why should you reward bad behavior?

If instead, you move this request up in your queue, you can get it over with and get on with tasks that brighten your day. Respond with something like, “I know you needed this in a hurry, so I made time today to get it to you.” There’s a clear implication that they should reciprocate in kind when you need a favor.

While it’s OK to play this game with people who will be useful to you in the future, don’t ignore the nice guys. The reasonable coworker who gave you two weeks to get the data she needs should not be penalized. She’s building up her own goodwill bank.

When you agree to any project, set a result and a deadline you can easily manage. Adjust their expectations and then exceed them. In other words, promise less and deliver more.

Getting to know you

The third approach requires a bit more time and thought. You may be familiar with personality tests that assign a color (Insights Discovery) or letter combination (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®) and disclose differences in how we like to work with and relate to others.

According to the Insights Discovery® tool (illustrated above), we are each a blend of four types. On any day you may be feeling more like one type of another. But you can draw upon all the elements and use them to your advantage in dealing with others.

  • Fiery Red – This type of person wants the facts right now, without any frills or social niceties. It’s best if you can be brief, be right, and be gone.
  • Sunshine Yellow – This is a desire to be involved, to thrive in a social situation. These people look for a fun solution and jump into projects. Acknowledge their ideas and enthusiasm before you point out what won’t actually work.
  • Earth Green – These calm, patient folks care about others. They are the ones who bring cookies to the meeting. So, you need to show you care about them. Recognize their personal life and indulge in a bit of small talk before asking for what you need.
  • Cool Blue – This is a cautious and deliberate work style. They will triple-check your work, question your methods, and, eventually, complete a stellar project.
Start early and ask nicely

There is no right or wrong personality type. The trick is to recognize tendencies in your co-workers and approach them accordingly. You’ll be more efficient and less frustrated if you know that a bit of small talk will go a long way with a Green, but cause impatience for a Red.

Once the connection is in place and a reciprocal process is working, don’t stop there. The best way to close the loop is by thanking them for their assistance. But you can do one better.

Each IPEDS survey submission cycle provides the institution with a summary report. When sending the thank you email, include the summary report along with it and copy their immediate supervisor. They both can appreciate how the information they submitted led to the creation of this report that will promote the university’s strength to students.

This process might take yourself out of your comfort zone, (especially if you lead with Blue) but doing so will make your role as IPEDS Keyholder easier in the long run. You might even get a chance to take an early spring break, even during the spring IPEDS survey collection.

John Ingram

John Ingram is a highly regarded National Instructor for IPEDS with the Association of Institutional Research. He was one of 30 researchers nationwide chosen to participate in the 2019 NCES Data Institute. He is also founder and principal consultant of Ingram Market Analytics, where dusty data is reborn as Action Analytics, ready to support decisions and actions.

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