Institutional Research FAQs

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Who are we?


Interactive reports & dashboards

Data requests

Rankings & Ratings

What is Institutional Research?

“Broadly, ‘institutional research’ is viewed as a range of activities involving the collection, analysis and interpretation of information descriptive of an institution and its activities, including its students and staff, programs, management and operations. The findings of such ‘institutional research’ can assist institutional leaders (in both academic and administrative domains) through informing their planning and decision making.”

–Zimmer, B; JIRA, Vol.4 No.1, May 1995, pg.74, “Achieving Quality Within Funding Constraints: The Potential Contribution of Institutional Research”

What are the major responsibilities of ECU’s office of Institutional Research?

Specifically, IR at ECU has primary responsibility for preparing and submitting data and official reports to ensure the University’s compliance with the UNC System as well as other state, regional and federal reporting mandates. Additionally, IR coordinates the University’s responses to a variety of external and internal requests for data and information such as those from publishers of college guides, other institutions, ECU faculty and staff, and so on.

What are “official” data?

When IR staff use the term “official data,” they are referring to data that have been submitted to the University of North Carolina system office and/or the Department of Education Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data that are used for state and/or federal reporting are extracted at specific times in a term or year (e.g., beginning of term, census day) and subsequently “frozen” or locked down. These datasets are then used whenever possible to fill data requests, complete surveys, and create reports. There are times when operational (“non-frozen” or live) data are more appropriate for a specific purpose but reports generated using these data should not be expected to contain numbers matching those officially reported.

What is a “census day”?

“Census” day is a date set by a university on which it takes a “snapshot” of all students’ enrollment which becomes the “official enrollment” that is used for both state and federal reporting. There is a census day for each term at ECU. For both Fall and Spring semesters, census day is the tenth class day. For summer terms, census day is usually the third day of classes.

Where can I find data definitions used by IR?

For each dashboard in the University Dashboard and in IPAR’s Power BI “Apps,” users may hover over the question mark “help” icon on each key performance indicator and chart/graph to view detailed descriptions of the definition, data source, and special notes about the visualization. Users may also hover over specific characteristics in bar and column charts to view definitions of the given characteristics. In several of IPAR’s Power BI “Apps,” users may access a “Glossary of Terms” document, which contains dictionary entries for all terms and concepts displayed in the given “App.” If you have questions about data element definitions or data sources used in any IPAR dashboard or report, please email

How are minority and underrepresented minority defined by IR?

Consistent with definitions used by other colleges and universities, IR defines these terms in their reports and dashboards as follows.

Minority: The term minority is defined as the smaller in number of two groups forming a whole. A racial/ethnic minority is a person whose race or ethnicity is a non-dominant race within the group. In the United States, racial/ethnic minorities are generally considered to include Hispanic/Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and those of two or more races.

Underrepresented Minority (URM): The definition of Underrepresented minority is far from being crystal clear. However, the URM designation is relatively consistent among schools. Underrepresented Minority can be defined as a group whose percentage of the population in a given group is lower than their percentage of the population in the country. At many colleges and universities, underrepresented minorities are generally considered to include: Hispanic/Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, and those of two or more races. International students generally fall into a separate category of their own.

What’s the difference between federal and non-federal race/ethnicity categories?

To determine race/ethnicity for federal reporting purposes, individuals are asked to first designate ethnicity as either Hispanic/Latino or Not Hispanic/Latino. Second, individuals are asked to indicate one or more races that apply among the following: American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, White. From responses to these questions (or lack of response), nine federal race/ethnicity categories are created.

  • Hispanic/Latino: Individuals who select Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and only American Indian/Alaska Native in response to the second.
  • Asian: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and only Asian in response to the second.
  • Black/African American: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and only Black/African American in response to the second.
  • Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and only Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander in response to the second.
  • White: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and only White in response to the second.
  • Two or More Races: Individuals who select Not Hispanic/Latino in response to the first question and more than one race in response to the second.
  • Non-resident Alien: For federal reporting purposes, individuals who are not citizens or nationals of the United States and who are in the U.S. on a visa or temporary basis are not included in any of the race/ethnicity categories above but rather in a category of their own.
  • Unknown: Individuals who are citizens of the U.S. but about whom no information is available regarding race/ethnicity.

On many of the IPAR BI App dashboards, a demographic labeled as “Race/Ethnicity” is included (and is distinct from “Race/Ethnicity (Federal).” For this demographic, definitions for American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, White, Two or More Races, and Unknown are the same as for the federal reporting categories. However, there is no Non-resident Alien category and non-U.S. citizens are counted in the race/ethnicity category with which they identify. Additionally, this demographic category separates Hispanic/Latino individuals into two groups: Those who selected no race and those who selected one or more race.

Why do numbers for the same variable sometimes differ?

When numbers for the same variable differ, it is generally because the variables are not actually the same after all. That is, any one variable can be defined in a number of ways and the number obtained for that variable will depend upon the definition used. As an example, let’s say that someone requests data on the number of majors in an academic program. “Number of majors” could include all declared majors, only declared majors who are juniors and seniors, or declared plus intended majors. Each of these definitions would result in a different count.

How do I request training on IR’s reports and dashboards?

Several dashboards and reports can be accessed from the IPAR Data Resourceswebpage. Institutional Research staff are happy to provide demonstrations of, or training on, any of these resources. To request a demonstration or training session, please send an e-mail to that effect to Please include answers to the following questions in your e-mail: (1) On which data resource(s) would you like to focus? (2) Would the session be for an individual or a group (e.g., college or department meeting)? (3) Would you prefer the session to be face-to-face or virtual? (4) What are your preferred dates/times for the session?

Why are sets of IPAR dashboards called “apps”?

The IPAR Business Intelligence App and other sets of IPAR dashboards were created with a data visualization tool from Microsoft called Power BI. “App” is simply Microsoft’s word for a set of content that can be published so people can access that content.

How do I know which data resource to use?

Click here to download a list of data resources with details on data elements available in each.

What if I need a refresher on navigating the IPAR Business Intelligence App?

Click here to access a short tutorial on navigating the IPAR Business Intelligence App. Although the tutorial is focused on the IPAR BI App specifically, the navigational guidelines covered in the tutorial are applicable to most dashboards created by IPAR staff.

When and how often are interactive reports and dashboards updated?

Interactive reports draw upon data contained in ECU’s data warehouse. Reports created by IR generally are based on the data we submit each term to the UNC system office. Therefore, updates are not made to these reports until after the data submission dates have passed. There are, however, some exceptions. For example, the Courses dashboards in the IPAR Business Intelligence App are refreshed every Monday morning.

How do historical changes in university practices or data collection impact interpretation of the visualizations?

There are a variety of historical changes in university practices or data collection that impact how you should interpret the visualizations. Some prime examples are:

  • Changes in grading practices: When viewing the Courses/Grades visualizations, it is important to keep in mind that the university instituted a change in grading practices during the height of COVID-19. In Fall semester, 2020, and Spring semester, 2021, students could opt to take a Pass (P) grade rather than a standard letter grade. Therefore, the DFW rate for the 2020-2021 academic year is lower than for years before or after.
  • Collection of data on first-generation status: Prior to 2023, the question about first generation status for new students was not included or not required on all admissions application sources used by ECU (i.e., CFNC, Common App, ECU’s own internal admissions app). Beginning in 2023, the question is included and required on all three application sources. So, beginning in that year, the data on first-generation status are more complete than in any prior year.

What do I do if the Glossary of Terms in the IPAR BI App won’t open for me?

Use either Chrome (preferred) or Firefox as your browser. If you use Firefox and the document won’t open, change your security settings as follows:

  • PC users: Go to settings in Firefox, then to Privacy & Security. Click Manage Exceptions next to Enhanced Tracking Protection and add the URL of the Power BI App page to the list of exceptions.
  • Mac users: Click the shield to the left of the address bar and toggle off enhanced tracking protection.

When do I request data from IR versus other units on campus?

Although IR may facilitate requests related to a variety of university functions, our primary role is to fill data requests which can be obtained from data submitted each term to the UNC system office. Generally, requests should go to the functional office responsible for a particular type of data. Because multiple offices on campus use the same centralized data request form, you can submit a data request through the link on Institutional Research’s data request page and simply choose the office to which your request should be directed. This applies to data being requested from one of the following offices: BSOM Data Analysis & Strategy, Financial Aid, Graduate School Admissions, Human Resources, Office of Equity & Diversity, Registrar, Undergraduate Admissions, Institutional Assessment, Institutional Research, Space Planning, University Advancement, and ITCS Enterprise Analytics.

What data resources are available to me without having to request data from IR?

A variety of reports and data bases are available online from which you can obtain ECU data as well as data on the UNC system and our peer institutions. These reports and data bases can be accessed on the site.

What is the process for requesting data from IR?

Requesting data or information from IR is as simple as completing the Data Request Form.  Your request will be reviewed, and if it is approved, it will be assigned to a research associate in IR. You will get an email when your request is assigned, and you can contact the research associate directly. In many cases, the research associate will contact you as soon as he or she receives your data request to clarify any details needed to complete it.

Is there a group at ECU devoted to discussing and understanding college rankings?

Yes, the ECU College Guide & Ranking Publication Working Group meets twice per year—once in spring and once in fall—primarily to be informed of ECU’s current rankings/ratings and discuss any new ranking publication websites or surveys. Recent news articles pertaining to rankings/ratings are also collected and shared with the group at these meetings.

What is ECU’s ranking philosophy?

ECU’s ranking philosophy, written by the College Guide & Ranking Publication Working Group is available on this webpage: ECU’s Ranking philosophy.

Who at ECU is responsible for submitting the data on which rankings are based?

Not all rankings and ratings are based on data submitted directly to the ranking organization by ECU. However, in those cases when data are submitted directly, Institutional Research staff complete surveys that will be used to rank the university as a whole. Program-specific surveys, however, are completed by faculty or staff within the academic units.

Where can I find some of the more prominent rankings for ECU and its programs?

Institutional Research maintains a webpage with information about ECU’s rankings and recognitions. You can also link directly to some ranking and recognition websites from this page: ECU’s Ranking philosophy.

How do I know when a ranking is legitimate and worthy of being used as a “bragging point”?

Faculty and administrators familiar with an academic program can best judge whether a particular ranking makes sense; however, before using a ranking as a “bragging point,” its origin and methodology should be examined. To that end, ECU’s College Guide and Ranking Publication Working Group created a template by which ranking websites and organizations can be evaluated. The template guides the evaluator through a series of questions to determine if a ranking is reputable, accurate, and meaningful.