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Limitations

The following cautions should be taken into consideration in using the data on this site.

Mismatched campus-level data

The data set was created by merging college-level data from the five major source files described in sources. However, these files do not use a consistent set of identifying school codes or school names, so it is possible there are some cases of mismatches. For about 450 schools, some of the data elements were reported for an entire public system (CUNY and Penn State, for example) or all branch campuses combined, so not all of the information is available for each individual campus. In these cases there is a separate entry for the “central” or system totals that shows the aggregated data as it was reported for a combination of campuses, and separate entries for each of the campuses with the data that was available at the campus level. In general, the data from IPEDS (institutional characteristics, fall enrollment, and race-ethnicity) is available at the campus level, while data from the FISAP (aid applications, income distributions), Pell, and student loan files are reported for entire systems or combined for all branch campuses. Since it is not always clear which campuses are included in the combined totals, these cases are particularly prone to mismatching errors in merging the numerous files.

Inconsistent enrollment data

Caution should be used in choosing enrollments to be used as the denominator in percentages. Since Pell grants, Stafford loans, and federal aid applications are received throughout the academic year, the appropriate enrollment numbers to use as the denominator for percentages are the 12-month student totals. These are reported in the FISAP files; however, those figures frequently do not agree with the 12-month totals reported by the same institutions in IPEDS. The FISAP reported 12-month enrollments were used as the denominators in calculating most of the percentages for the financial aid variables in this database. The IPEDS 12-month enrollment figures are also provided so that users can check for discrepancies in the enrollment totals.

Estimates of dependent students

The total number of dependent students has been estimated based on the percentage of students 24 or younger (reported in IPEDS) and the average percentage of students in this age group that are dependent (90% at 4-year, 75% at 2-year colleges). Since these national averages will vary by college, the estimated total number of dependent students is only an approximation, and in some cases the assumptions will result in estimates that are too high or too low. Dependency status for students under 24 is only known for financial aid applicants. Some states and institutions use their own definition of dependency when awarding the financial aid from their own funds.

Estimates of FTE undergraduates

The number of Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) undergraduates was estimated from the fall full-time and part-time enrollments reported in IPEDS as the sum of full-time and about 40% of part-time undergraduates (the factor varies somewhat by type of college). This is also an approximation, since the real FTE counts are based on the number of credits, rather than the number of students.

Percentages larger than 100

Percentages and averages in the database are provided using a variety of denominators: aid applicants (from FISAP), fall enrollments (from IPEDS), 12-month enrollments (from FISAP), total dependent students, and full-time equivalent enrollments. In some cases these may result is percentages greater than 100%. This may be due to the choice of denominator, the estimation procedures described above, discrepancies in the numbers reported by the colleges, or errors that have resulted from mismatched records from the different sources (most likely when data is reported for individual campuses in one source, but aggregated for several campuses in another source).

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