Trends in College Spending (TCS) Online FAQs


What is the data source for TCS online?

The TCS system presents data from the Delta Cost Project IPEDS Database, which is drawn primarily from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). All higher education institutions that participate in federal student financial aid programs are required to submit data to the U.S. Department of Education each year on enrollments, finance, staffing, and completions. The Delta Cost Project compiled this data into a single database, beginning with data reported in 1987, harmonizing the data (as much as possible) to account for changes in survey forms and reporting standards that have occurred over time. While data for all institutions is included in the Delta Cost Project IPEDS database, only information on public and private non-profit institutions is presented in TCS Online. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education assumed responsibility for updating and maintaining the main database (beginning with the 2010 data update).

* TCS Online uses an enhanced version of this database, providing information for individual institutions that may be part of combined parent/child institutions (e.g. grouped institutions) in the master database. TCS Online organizes institutions based on their sector (public/private) and 2010 Carnegie classification (prior to the 2006-2011 data update, institutions were organized by 2005 Carnegie classification).

*Note: The current Delta Cost Project IPEDS database produced by the U.S. Department of Education only includes data through 2010. The 2011 data were generated by the Delta Cost Project using the same procedures and formulas applied to earlier database updates, resulting in comparable estimates over time.

How is TCS Online different from other websites that provide IPEDS data?

TCS-online was designed to provide access to select IPEDS data organized into a set of 6 metrics that we believe are a useful way to analyze patterns and spending in Higher Education. TCS Online is not intended as a tool that provides broad access to all reported IPEDS data, as there are other web-based systems that serve this function (such as the U.S. Department of Education site). And while the Delta Project has published reports with national-level analyses (by Carnegie group and sector) using these 6 metrics, the TCS system now allows users to access to these same metrics for individual institutions, as well as nationally.

How come this data doesn’t seem to match what my institution reported to IPEDS?

In some instances, the Delta Cost Project has adjusted the reported data to allow for more consistent comparisons over time and across different reporting standards (FASB/GASB). The Delta database also includes limited imputations in instances when data was not reported. All financial data in TCS also have been standardized by enrollment, and are reported per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.

What are grouped institutions?

The Delta Database from which TCS data originates is a longitudinal data file dating back to 1987. In some instances, institutions may have reported some or all of their data with other institutions (usually at the system level, or with their “main” campus) at some point during the period for which we have collected data. While this was more prevalent in earlier years than now, to maintain comparability for analyses over this whole time period, we have grouped together institutions that reported data with another institution(s) at any point since 1987 - even if they now report separately. These grouped institutions are used in the national level estimates. However, the grouped institutions shown in the institution-level have been adjusted so that only those institutions continuing to report together during the 2005-2010 period are shown as grouped; institutions that reported their own data during this 6-year period are now shown separately in the institution-level tables, even if they reported with other institutions prior to 2005.

In some instances, those institutions that are grouped may cross Carnegie categories (particularly if a public “system” includes Research institutions as well as Master’s and Community Colleges, or if a Main campus is a Research institution but its branch campuses are not.) The “grouped institutions file” under the Help tab lists the institutions that have been grouped together. Care should be taken when analyzing the patterns and trends of grouped institutions that cross Carnegie/sector categories.

How are shares calculated?

In the U.S. by Carnegie Group tables, any shares displayed (e.g. student share of costs, instruction share of costs etc.) were first calculated at the institution level, and then the average was computed across institutions. Similarly, in the institutional comparison tables, the mean/median shares presented are the column means/medians for the selected institutions. Calculating the share using the average (or median) data presented in the tables will result in different estimates, but since the unit of analysis is the institution, the most precise estimates are those calculated at the institution level prior to calculating the mean/median.

Is there more recent data available?

TCS Online is updated when the most recent Delta Cost Project Database becomes available from the U.S. Department of Education. The Delta Database is generally updated after the final IPEDS data collectionfor each academic year (e.g. finance survey) has been publicly released.

Using TCS Online

How come you don’t provide analyses by state?

State data is provided for a limited number of variables on the Delta Cost Project website ( There are significant differences in the institutional missions, structures, and revenue/expenditure patterns across different types of institutions (i.e. Public Research, Public Master’s, Private Bachelor’s etc.), and there are also varying representations of these different institutions within each state. Therefore, we do not recommend analyzing cost structures and spending in higher education at the aggregate state level, because it obscures these important differences.

It is appropriate to compare similar types of institutions (for example, public research institutions) across states. To generate this data in TCS Online, you should first select a state, and then select all the public research institutions in that state; the mean displayed at the bottom of the results page would serve as the average for that state. You would then perform the same procedure for a second state you wished to compare. [Note: in some cases data have been aggregated across Carnegie groups (see the above FAQ on “grouped institutions”); this is more problematic in some states than others. See the grouped institution list to determine which states might be most affected).

Can I see data for my peer institutions?

At this time, TCS Online does not automatically generate “peer groups” for selected institutions. Users can select their own institutions for comparison.

Can I export the results from my data analyses?

Your data results can either be exported to a .PDF or and Excel file. At the top of the report results page, select your preferred export format.