About the Common Data Set

Four Higher Education Publishers Join Forces to Improve College Surveys

Spurred by the need to improve the quality and consistency of information, while easing the burden on colleges-which receive numerous surveys annually-the College Board, Wintergreen/Orchard House, Peterson's, and U.S. News & World Report will ask the same essential questions about a college's academic offerings, enrollment, admission requirements, expenses, and freshman class profile.

Colleges have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the Common Data Set initiative and its promise to reduce what many see as a necessary but time-consuming administrative burden.

"The Common Data Set will serve a great need, not only in my office, but in all higher education offices responsible for the distribution of information," said Kathryn C. Jones, director of Institutional Research at Arkansas State University.

Donna Spencer, coordinator of institutional survey responses for Ohio State University, added that "Even assuming that most publishers will still request a good deal of additional information, the standardization of any of this material is a welcome change. The questions included in the Common Data Set appear to be clear and well-defined."

A Collaborative Effort

Problems of inconsistent data in college guidance publications received national attention in April 1995, when The Wall Street Journal cited the unreliability of guidance publications and the temptation for some colleges to generate inconsistent or skewed data by including different groups of SAT takers, for example, when reporting average test scores.

Work on the Common Data Set began in October 1995 after a meeting, convened by Arthur Rothkopf, president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in which colleges acknowledged the problem and the need to standardize the college data collection process and to validate the accuracy of information reported. Wintergreen/Orchard House, U.S. News & World Report, Peterson's, and the College Board worked with education representatives last spring to develop a set of common definitions. More than 1,000 colleges and schools reviewed the draft data set during the summer, and a final version was sent to college presidents in October by the College Board.

"Prior to the Common Data Set, each survey asked for similar data in different forms, and this lack of standardization often led students and parents to make inaccurate comparisons," said College Board President Donald M. Stewart. "College presidents have welcomed this initiative as a long-overdue effort to provide parents and students with accurate statistics about their colleges and universities."

The Common Data Set project is an ongoing collaboration between publishers and the higher education community. An advisory group of national education associations met with the publishers in December to plan for the continuation and expansion of the data set initiative.

In addition to the four publishers, the advisory group includes the National Association for College Admission Counseling, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, American Association of Community Colleges, Association for Institutional Research, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, and the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

October 2007