Creating a Data File

Data files are used to submit data through the PDP. They must include all of the necessary information and be properly formatted in order to be validated and processed by The Clearinghouse.

Students to Include

The students you include in your data files are based on “cohorts.” Cohorts include all undergraduate students who attempted at least one course in the current term for the first time at your institution. Since the PDP dashboards and analysis-ready file show up to 8 historical cohort years, we recommend that you track up to 8 years of cohorts.

Students may be first-time ever in college or new transfer students and may be enrolled at any program level, including:

  • Credential-seeking
  • College remedial, developmental, or college-preparatory
  • Adult basic skills (ESL, ABE, or ASE/GED)
  • Non-credit vocational
  • Non-credential seeking (Any other non-credential seeking students)

For non-credit vocational students, only include students who enrolled in courses that could lead to an occupational certificate, industry certificate, or other type of credential, as well as students who are simultaneously enrolled in credit-bearing courses.

Also include:

  • Past dual enrollment students (students who took their first course or courses at your institution while simultaneously attending high school and are currently enrolled at your institution but no longer attending high school). Dual and summer enrollment students only include students who earned dual enrollment credits at your institution, not other institutions.
  • Fall entry students who enrolled in summer work (such as summer bridge programs or developmental/remedial coursework) prior to their first term of enrollment with credential-seeking status.
  • Re-admit students. The cohort-level analysis-ready file allows you to filter data by enrollment type, which allows you to see your data with or without re-admit students. There is no minimum amount of time that a student must be out of the institution in order to be considered a re-admit student. We suggest reporting re-admit students’ enrollment in another term to prevent overlapping data. If a student stops out and then re-admits, you should submit the student twice in the cohort file. For example, if a student stopped out in 2013-14 and then re-admitted in 2015-2016, you should include the student in 2012-13 as a first-time student and in 2015-2016 as a re-admit student. The system will have two enrollment records and choose one automatically using PDP logic.
  • A student who is taking a course for credit that leads to a credential at your institution but the student is either undeclared or non-credential seeking.

Do not include:

  • Non-credit vocational students enrolled in purely personal enrichment courses
  • Current dual enrollment students (students who are currently taking a course or courses at your institution while simultaneously attending high school).


It is possible that the PDP cohort count could be different from the IPEDS count. The PDP has a different definition of cohort than IPEDs.

Per IPEDS definition, first-time freshmen who start out by taking ESL courses are not included in the first-time freshmen cohort because they are not taking college level courses. We recommend including these students in the cohort and cohort term in which they started taking college courses. For example, if a student is taking ESL courses in Summer 2019 and plans to start college courses in Fall 2019, this student should be included in the 2019-20 cohort and the fall cohort term instead of 2018-19 cohort and the summer cohort term.

Academic vs. Cohort Years and Terms

Academic Years and Terms

An academic year is similar to a calendar year. It includes four terms and begins with the fall term.

For example, the 2021-22 academic year includes the following academic terms:

  • Fall 2021
  • Winter 2021
  • Spring 2022
  • Summer 2022

The PDP considers summer a lagging term. Be sure to align your terms accordingly.

The PDP uses the Academic Year and Term fields in the course data file to determine when a student was enrolled in a course. It uses the Academic Year field in the financial aid data file to determine the year of the financial aid record.

Cohort Years and Terms

A student’s cohort year and cohort term are the academic year and term in which the student first enrolled at your institution. For example, a student who enrolled in the fall term of the 2020-21 academic year has a cohort term of fall and a cohort year of 2020-21. A student’s cohort year and term do not change unless the student is re-admitted.

Data File Types

There are two required data files that you may submit each year:

  • Cohort Data File: Enrollment information for the most recent students enrolled during the submission period
  • Course Data File: Course information for students who enrolled in previous and current cohorts and still attend your institution

There is also one optional data file that you may submit once per year:

  • Financial Aid Data File: Financial aid information for students enrolled during the submission period

Reverse Transfer Data

Reverse transfer is when a 4-year school allows The Clearinghouse to send a student’s course data to a 2-year school that the student previously attended so that the student can receive an associate’s degree from the 2-year school.

For example: Student A enrolled in a 2-year school, completed 40 credits, and transferred to a 4-year school without earning a degree from the 2-year school. While Student A is enrolled at the 4-year school, the 4-year school can allow The Clearinghouse to send the student’s course data to the 2-year school. The 2-year school can then validate the courses and determine if the student has enough credits to receive an associate’s degree. If so, the 2-year school can award an associate’s degree to the student.

You may submit reverse transfer data as part of your course data file. See Submitting Data Files through FTP for details. For assistance submitting reverse transfer data, email

Next: Formatting a Data File


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