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Frequently Asked Questions

Institutional research (IR) is defined by Saupe (1990) as “research conducted within an institution of higher education to provide information which supports institutional planning, policy formation, and decision making.” Activities have to do with decision-makers needing to “know about an institution, its educational objectives, goals and purposes, environmental factors, processes, and structures to more widely use its resources, more successfully attain its objectives and goals, and to demonstrate integrity and accountability in so doing” (Peterson, 1985). Responsibilities include collecting data about the performance and environment of the institution, analyzing and interpreting the collected data, and transforming and interpreting data analyses into information that can be used to support academic and management decisions. IR offices also serve as the source for official institutional data.

Decision Support and Institutional Research (DSIR) at APSU serves as a comprehensive source for information about the university. The primary activities of DSIR are to collect, analyze, and report data pertaining to a range of areas at APSU to give a historical perspective. DSIR is also involved with the systematic evaluation of educational programs, perceptions of students, faculty, alumni, and employers in order to assist in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the institution.

DSIR posts an extensive library of current institutional information through its Institutional Data page. The information includes general and historical data about students such as, enrollment, student credit hour, demographic data, and degree completion, retention and graduation rates; about employees such as faculty FTE and employee demographics.


Information not available on the web site is available by request. To request specific data, please use the Information Request page. All requests should be made through the request form to insure they are processed in an efficient and timely manner.


DSIR works with other departments and organizations on campus to provide accurate information for accreditation and academic audit reports, grant proposals, and other projects. Our office assists with survey administration. 


As part of its mission, DSIR tracks and reports data for federal and state agencies, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Two important statistics used by these agencies include the retention rate and the graduation rate. To provide these statistics, APSU monitors all of the first-time freshmen entering APSU in the summer and fall in one year as a cohort, or a specially defined group of students sharing specific characteristics established for tracking purposes. For example, the 2010 cohort includes first-time freshmen who entered APSU in the summer and fall of 2010. The cohort does not include freshmen who were here in previous years and returned in fall 2010. Nor does it include freshmen who transfer from other institutions.

A retention rate is the percent of students in a cohort returning for their second year at the institution. The cohort consists of the number of students entering APSU as full-time, first-time, degree-seeking undergraduates in a particular year. For example, the retention rate for the 2010 cohort is the percent of the full-time, first-time, degree-seeking students who entered in the fall of 2010 and returned in the fall of 2011. The rate is not related to the student’s level; that is, students who are still freshmen when returning for their second year are included in the retention rate.

A graduation rate is the percent of students in a cohort completing their program within six years of entering a cohort for a particular year. For example, the 2010 graduation rate is the percent of students in the 2004 cohort who completed their program within six years.

A student progression is the number of undergraduates reaching or passing the 24, 48, or 72 cumulative earned credit hour benchmark. The student progression does not use a cohort. It includes all undergraduate students at APSU who have transferred from another institution in addition to those undergraduate students only attending APSU. Student progression is used in the outcomes based funding formula which the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) uses to allocate state appropriations to higher education institutions in Tennessee.

The academic year is important for degree completions. Though students graduate from APSU three times a year, only one number is reported for the number of degree completions in the academic year. When an academic year is referenced, it includes the summer and fall semesters from one year and the spring semester from the following year. For example, degree completions for 2016-17 includes graduates in the summer and fall of 2016 and those in the spring of 2017.


Enrollment at any institution is a moving target. Students enroll during the drop-add process, may receive special permits to enroll late, and some drop over the course of the semester. In addition, some courses start later, such as the Ft. Campbell terms and the A and B terms on Clarksville campus. The official data reported to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission is based on the ‘high-water mark’ of enrollment, on the last day to drop without record. This date is referred to as the ‘14th day’ of enrollment. The final enrollment numbers are usually available within a week of the last 14th day of the semester. For fall, the last term is Ft. Campbell II, which usually starts around mid-October. The 14th day of Ft. Campbell II is around the end of October, and enrollment and retention and graduation rates are available the middle of November. Any enrollment numbers released earlier are preliminary and are not from this office. There is no guarantee that preliminary numbers will match the ‘official’ numbers sent to the state.

These locations are considered as off-campus centers. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) defines an off-campus center as a location offering degree programs that has an administrative presence.  These centers should not be compared to the University of Tennessee system that has institutions in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Martin because each location has its own administration and chancellor (president).


Locations where classes held outside of main campus such as dual enrollment courses at high schools, workforce training opportunities, and/or other short-term, specific instructional needs are considered as being held at an off-campus site, a physical space used for credit enrollment only.


DSIR reports enrollment information based on unduplicated headcount of all students regardless where or how they attend classes.