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My summer “vacation” on the training trail

Data gathering, interpretation, enrichment, and presentation — all of it easier and stronger when you know how to use the best tools around.

I spent my summer as an AIR/NCES professional trainer, showing higher education researchers how to do just that. In all, over 150 people attended my five workshops, all over the country. I built up my frequent flyer miles, dealt with high altitudes out West and basked in hot days down South. Even got to go to my first home, Texas.

All in all, I met a lot of great people and dove deep into the exciting world of institutional research. 

On-the-go itinerary

May 27, Denver, CO – IPEDS SFA Workshop through AIR Forum
June 20, Washington D.C. – NCES Data Institute
July 15, Washington D.C. – NCES IPEDS Institute (Train the trainers!)
July 18, Baton Rouge, LA – IPEDS SFA Workshop
July 26, Bridgewater, MA – NEAIR Summer Workshop & Getting Started with Tableau (most attended workshop!)
Aug. 2, Austin, TX – TAIR Summer Workshop

So I started at the world’s largest gathering of higher education professionals working in institutional research in Denver, and continued with smaller and regional forums. 

Digging into the data

At several events, my goal was to show participants how to prepare their institution’s data for IPEDS, and how to search, use and compare the data to other schools. By the end of the session, they were aware of the latest changes to IPEDS and skilled with various IPEDS data tools. 

Participants learned how to save their benchmarking work, while working in the Use the Data Center. No more lost work or wondering where you left off when the boss interrupts your progress. 

At the IPEDS SFA, we divided into teams and competed to answer questions in the Match Group game. This ice-breaker got everyone relaxed and talking, while the winners scored some free conference swag. 

Revealing the cost of education

One workshop focused on managing and extracting the financial aid data needed to complete the IPEDS Student Financial Aid Survey. According to the IPEDS Help Desk, this is one of the most challenging reports to prepare.

It is also one of the most critical surveys, because it lets colleges report their average net price accurately, so price-conscious students and parents can compare schools on sites like and It’s a vital tool in helping families close the education cost gap.

Added bonus: I showed those in attendance how to turn files into reports that can also address internal benchmarking and reporting needs. 

If you could use a refresher course in IPEDS, check out my upcoming trainings later this year. If you’d like help to make your IPEDS data more impressive and usable, please get in touch. There’s no charge for the first hour together.

Know your acronyms

IPEDS – Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System 
AIR – Association for Institutional Research
NCES – National Center for Education Statistics
SFA – Student Financial Aid
NEAIR – North East Association for Institutional Research
TAIR – Texas Association for Institutional Research
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Giving Student Borrowers a Break

Regular visitors to this site know of my interest in solving the student debt crisis. It continues to hurt recent graduates’ ability to meet any financial goals. With big loan payments every month, these young people must put off buying houses and saving for their own future. At worst, their salaries don’t stretch far enough and they end up in default of their loans, which can be a long-term disaster.

But in 2018, some borrowers who are employed full time in public service jobs – including public or private colleges – got a break. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgave $5.52 million in loans – an average of $57,500 per borrower.

In a recent article for an in-house publication, I explained this program to employees of the Community College of Allegheny County. If you meet the criteria, this can be a huge benefit, but you have to invest some time and effort to restructure your debt to take advantage of it.

Stop the debt before it starts

It is also important for us to educate prospective college students on other ways to reduce their student loans, before they sign on that dotted line. For instance:

  • Learn real-world money management as a college course.
  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Go to school part-time while working – it may take another year, but your salary will go further in the long run.
  • Lower your tuition by doing a year or two at a less expensive community college before transferring to a private college.

This is a multi-generational problem. As the cost of education continues to climb, families are struggling to close the college cost gap. Some students live at home, instead of on campus. Others opt for an online degree. Parents often take out their own loans to pay a share of the tuition, sacrificing their own retirement savings to pay them back. I’m researching other ways to tackle the issue of student debt by analyzing national data sets with the National Center of Statistics. More about that as the project continues.

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Partner with SaveYourRefund to Promote Tax Time Savings!

Guest post by America Saves

It’s always a pleasure to share my blog with like-minded friends. America Saves is a respected organization whose goal is to change as many lives as possible with their #SaveYourRefund campaign. With the 2019 tax season underway, America Saves reminds tax payers your tax refund is the perfect windfall to start or grow an emergency fund. 

Please share with others the value of the SaveYourRefund campaign and learn how you can get involved, too. 

Partner with SaveYourRefund to Promote Tax Time Savings!

Nearly half of all Americans don’t have enough savings to cope with even small emergencies. Yet more than 100 million taxpayers get refunds from the IRS each year. For many individuals and families, that tax refund is the largest check that they will receive all year, and the perfect windfall to start or grow an emergency fund.

In the 2019 tax season, SaveYourRefund will once again offer tax filers the chance to win cash prizes for saving a portion of their tax refunds. Now in its seventh year, SaveYourRefund is a partnership between Commonwealth and America Saves that provides fun and exciting incentives for Americans to save at tax time, when households making less than $53,000 claim $100 billion in federal tax refunds. A chance to win one of two $10,000 grand prizes or one of the 100 prizes of $100 is enough to turn a saving skeptic into a savings believer.

We encourage all of you to sign up as a SaveYourRefund partner for the 2019 tax season. Some Partners work directly with clients to offer free tax preparation services. Other Partners help us by spreading the word and promoting SaveYourRefund in their communities. By signing up as a Partner, you will receive communications about the promotion leading up to and during tax season, including information on trainings, promotional materials, progress updates (including data from entries from your tax sites), and inspiring saver stories.

Sign up to be a 2019 SaveYourRefund Partner today!