United Tribes Technical College’s Data Dictionary: Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Facilitating meaningful data analysis and interpretation is a goal of many colleges in the ATD Network. United Tribe Technical College, an ATD college since 2017, believes that facilitating an understanding and consistency in institutional research language among faculty and staff is important to building and sustaining a data informed student success culture at the college. The institutional research (IT) staff at the college discovered that various projects and reporting entities define and use terms, some with the same, and, some with different variables or timeframes. A slight variation in the definition by different reporting entities results in a change in denominator and/or analysis. To help colleagues reach a common language around data, the IR staff developed a unique data dictionary for internal use at the college to help college faculty and staff speak the same language when talking about different student success indicators. They wanted to develop a set of terms and definitions so that everyone would have a common understanding of what is meant by terms used regularly in data analysis and reporting such as retention and persistence, which college staff often use interchangeably. To help facilitate understanding, UTTC’s Institutional Research team defined each term, such as the various types of “first time status” (shown below), and created a table indicating which agency/program utilized the definition. The IR Office actively reviews the data definitions and updates the table as needed. 

The agencies/programs were:
AIHEC AIMS – American Indian Higher Education Consortium American Indian Measures of Success
AIR – Association of Institutional Research
BIE – Bureau of Indian Education
CTE – Career and Technical Education
IPEDS – Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
NDCTE – North Dakota Career and Technical Education
NSC – National Student Clearinghouse
TCPCTIP – Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Career and Technical Institutions Program (Section 117 Perkins V Statute)
UTTC – United Tribes Technical College

Term definition per agency/program



First Time Freshman Student A student who has no prior postsecondary experience (except as noted below) attending any institution for the first time at the undergraduate level. This includes students enrolled in academic or occupational programs. It also includes students enrolled in the fall term who attended college for the first time in the prior summer term, and students who entered with advanced standing (college credits or recognized postsecondary credential earned before graduation from high school).   X   X   X
First-time Ever in College A student who has not attended any postsecondary institution. X X X      
First-time Student A student who has never attended UTTC, but may or may not have attended other institutions of higher education. X         X


The document highlights the language challenges that all colleges have in defining terms and will help the college remember how they calculate certain rates for different reporting entities.

The six-page document was developed in summer 2020 and IR staff plan to direct college faculty and staff to the document when they make data requests. The IR Office staff believe it will help build a common vocabulary and understanding of how various rates are calculated for the college’s various stakeholders.

ATD works with UTTC and 32 other Tribal College and Universities to building data capacity and improve student outcomes through Project Success, an initiative led by the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Office and Ascendium Education Group.

Contributed by Leah Woodke and Monte Schaff, Institutional Research Office, United Tribes Technical College.


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