Cleveland State University

Institutional Research & Analysis

January 15 2004

News: Who Put the “Common” in the Common Data Set?

The Common Data Set (CDS) is a set of standards and definitions of data items rather than a survey instrument or set of data represented in a database.

The CDS has been developed by an entity referred to as the Common Data Set Initiative, which is a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson's, part of The Thomson Corporation, and U.S. News & World Report. The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student's transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the reporting burden on data providers.

This goal is attained by the development of clear, standard data items and definitions in order to determine a specific cohort relevant to each item. The product has been entitled the Common Data Set. Data items and definitions used by the U.S. Department of Education in its higher education surveys often serve as a guide in the continued development of the CDS. Common Data Set items undergo broad review by the CDS Advisory Board as well as by data providers representing secondary schools and two- and four-year colleges. Feedback from those who utilize the CDS also is considered throughout the annual review process.

The CDS reflects fall data and includes information regarding enrollment, student demographics, graduation rates, undergraduate admissions, library collections, annual tuition and fees, financial aid, instructional faculty, class size and degrees awarded. Although some items pertain to all academic levels, there is a focus on undergraduates.

The institutional research community in higher education is very committed to maintaining the highest standards in CDS reporting. There is a CDS list serve where colleges and universities from across the country share opinions, suggestions for improvement and technical expertise regarding reporting issues. This lively group is comprised of top administrators and analysts who regularly report institutional data and are dedicated to the development a CDS that reflects accurate and meaningful facts.

The Cleveland State Common Data Set is published annually, typically at the start of the spring semester. Current and prior year reports can be accessed through our web site. When printing the CDS, it is best to access the PDF version using Adobe Acrobat. If there are any questions regarding the CDS, please feel free to contact Jean Mason, in the Institutional Research Department at (216) 875-9685 or send us a note.

Jean Mason
Research Analyst

(Portions of the article were extracted from the Common Data Set Initiative web site at

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