National Student Clearinghouse: Degree Title Categories

I enjoy working with National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) return data, but the differences between the way schools report Degree Titles can be frustrating.  For example, here’s just a few of the ways “juris doctor” can appear:

a few ways JD can appear

I’ve worked on a few projects where it was necessary to work with the type of degree that was earned.  For example, as part of Access & Affordability discussions, it was important to examine the additional degrees that Swarthmore graduates earned after their Swarthmore graduation by student need level to determine if graduates in any particular need categories were earning certain degrees at higher/lower rates than other need categories.

example data_degree cat by need cat


In order to do this, I first had to recode degree titles into degree categories.

The NSC does make available some crosswalks, which can be found at

The Credential_Level_Lookup_table can be useful for some projects.  However, my particular project required more detail than provided in the table (for example, Juris Doctors are listed as “Doctoral-Professional” and I needed to be able to separate out this degree), so I created my own syntax.

I’m sharing this syntax (below) as a starting point for your own projects. This is not a comprehensive list of every single degree title that has been submitted to the NSC, so be careful to always check to see what you need to add to the syntax.

While I have found this to be rarer, there are the occasional degrees that come through without a title in any of the records for that degree.  I’ve therefore also included a bit of syntax at the top that codes those with a Graduated=”Y” but a blank Degree Title to “unknown.”  If you are choosing to work with those records differently, you can comment out that syntax.

Once you have created your new degree categories variable(s), you can select one record per person and run against your institutional data.  One option is to keep, for those who have graduated, the highest degree earned.  You can use “Identify Duplicate Cases” to Define Matching Cases by ID and then Sort Within Matching Groups by  DegreeTitleCatShort (or any other degree title category variable you’ve created).  Be sure to select Ascending or Descending based on your project and whether you want the First or Last record in each group to be Primary.

Hope this helps you in your NSC projects!

SPSS syntax:  Degree Title Syntax to share v3

Video and SPSS Syntax: Deleting Select Cases Using the National Student Clearinghouse Individual Detail Return File

There may be some situations where you would want to delete select records from an individual return file. For example, you may have a project where you are looking at student enrollment after graduation or transfer, and it is decided that your particular project will only include records for which a student was enrolled for more than 30 days in a fall/spring term or more than 10 days in a summer term. Or, you may have six years of records for a particular cohort, but you only want to examine records for four years. In both of these cases, you would want to delete the records that don’t fit your criteria before analyzing your data.

Continue reading Video and SPSS Syntax: Deleting Select Cases Using the National Student Clearinghouse Individual Detail Return File

Video and SPSS Syntax: Admit/Not Enroll Project Using the National Student Clearinghouse Individual Detail Return File

Irish United Nations Veterans Association house and memorial garden (Arbour Hill)” by Infomatique is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I use the National Student Clearinghouse individual detail return file and SPSS syntax in this video to capture the first school attended for students who were admitted to my institution, but who did not enroll (names listed are not real applicants). In a future video, I’ll work on the same project using the aggregate report. I almost always use the individual detail return file since it provides so much information, but it does have a limitation that impacts this project.

Continue reading Video and SPSS Syntax: Admit/Not Enroll Project Using the National Student Clearinghouse Individual Detail Return File

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve been working with data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) for a while now. A lot of wonderful information can be found in the NSC data, but the detailed return file can sometimes be a bit difficult. There are so many ways the data can be sliced, and it can sometimes be challenging to determine how best to work with the data to present meaningful information to stakeholders.

Continue reading Decisions, Decisions

Rules and Regs

The College has just submitted its Periodic Review Report (or PRR) to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, our accrediting agency.   The PRR is an “interim” report, provided at the midpoint between our decennial self-studies.    Though it is not quite the bustle of a self-study – e.g. the bulk of the work is accomplished by one committee that works with others across campus, rather than a multitude of committees; there is no on-site visit from a team of examiners – it is an important accreditation event that takes a great deal of time and work to prepare. Continue reading Rules and Regs

Happy New Year!
photo by Darwin Bell

Having worked in higher education for all of my adult life, I’ve never gotten over that “kid” feeling that September represents a new year.   More than January, it offers new beginnings and possibilities.   Faculty members come back from their summer activities recharged, and with new ideas and projects.   Our students return, literally, in earnest.   The quiet, sunny paths become challenging to navigate as people Have to Get Somewhere.   My new year’s resolution for this fall is to enjoy these moments.   I love helping a first-year student find a building, or hearing a student talk excitedly on their cell phone to a parent about a new class.  Or seeing a faculty member help a new colleague understand our customs and practices.  (“What’s a WA?!”)  When not too busy helping faculty and staff with their new ideas and projects, Institutional Research has a moment to catch its breath before our fall freeze, and watch the excitement.    My wish for the College in this new year is peace, love, and understanding.


I’m taking a little break from the phone calls and talking with the amazing pool of candidates who have applied for the two IR positions to think about all of the changes taking place at Swarthmore.   Commencement always makes me wistful, but there’s a lot to look forward to.

Everyone has been very busy this year working on the key initiatives that have come from our recent planning process, and these are starting to take shape.   A campus master plan that helps us to prepare for the changes that these initiatives may bring is entering its final stage of preparation and presents exciting possibilities.   This spring our students have challenged the College to more deeply engage with many issues of concern, and the poise and compassion of Swarthmore’s leadership in responding to these challenges has been an inspiration to me.   And of course, I’m looking forward to having a fully staffed Institutional Research Office which can support the College’s effectiveness in all of these efforts.

After this incredibly busy year, commencement this weekend, and alumni weekend next weekend, a relatively quieter period to recover and re-energize will surely be welcomed by all of us!

Why IR is hiring

Application_Page_1With an increasing amount of my time for the past two years spent with the Provost’s Office and the College in general helping to guide our assessment efforts, the IR Office has been struggling mightily to keep up with our work.   In January we were approved for an additional limited term position in the IR office to help offset the loss of my time.  The need for the position will be reevaluated in three years, which corresponds to the term of the new (second) Associate Provost position.   This is not an accident.  Since both positions are intended to relieve overloads caused, at least in part, by our needs for assessment and institutional effectiveness leadership, it makes sense to review this new infrastructure a few years down the road to see how it is serving us, as our assessment processes improve and our work becomes more routine.

With this additional IR position and Alex’s departure, I’ll be in a way replacing both Alex and myself, as I continue focusing more on assessment and on our upcoming accreditation mid-term report.   But while Alex and I shared much of the responsibilities for IR reporting and research in the past, I’ll be structuring the two positions to more separately reflect these two key roles.   A Data and Reporting Officer will have primary responsibility for data management, and routine and ad hoc reporting for internal and external purposes.  An Institutional Research Associate (the limited term position) will focus more on special studies, and is expected to provide the advanced analytic skills to our projects.   These two positions, and mine, will share somewhat in responsibilities and have just enough overlap to serve us in those many “all hands” moments.   It should be an exciting time for Institutional Research – and for assessment!


Just after the winter holidays, Alex shared with me the wonderful and sad news that he would be moving on to another position outside the College.   It’s a great opportunity for him for advancement, and also to be closer to his family.   But we’ll miss him a lot!    Alex’s last day was January 25th.    His departure is a loss to the office and to the College.

Check out Alex’s new gig!
Passaic County Community College – Institutional Research and Planning