It’s Element-ary: Perfecting StudentTracker Data Elements

Eugenio Hernandez, Research Analyst, Institutional Research, Pensacola State College & Michael A. Johnston, Director, Institutional Research, Pensacola State College

Relying on the validity of students' academic information is made easy thanks to the National Student Clearinghouse®. More than 3,600 colleges and universities[1] share and convey students’ academic advancements, allowing participating institutions to provide better service. These institutions are most likely to use the StudentTracker® system to utilize the multiple services including enrollment and graduation status data. This article will focus on how to achieve a flawless transmission, giving special attention to the “Date of Birth” and “Requester Return Field” data elements.

The Student Clearinghouse allows for multiple types of research queries: Longitudinal Cohort (CO), Declined Admissions (DA), Prior Attendance (PA), and Subsequent Enrollment (SE). Each query has specific data elements that are required for the submission; the focus in this discussion is specific to the PA query. The PA query allows an institution to verify enrollment and degrees of pending applicants. SAS Enterprise Guide is a wonderful hybrid of SAS programming language and the easy of point-and-click operation. 

Pensacola State has developed a process using the SAS Enterprise Guide to guarantee exact formatting from a CSV file of the applicants to the institution that populates new data, daily. The CSV file (APP1FILE) is located on a shared drive and the variables that populate daily are consistent for every run. The CSV file must contain, at minimum, the data elements required for the submission, which include the applicant's first name, middle name (not required), last name, date of birth, and social security number (not required). The other data elements required for the PA submission are calculated fields that are executed easily in SAS EG. All data elements in the APP1FILE are string variables separated by commas, and the date of birth is in the format of YYYYMMDD.  

First, the data is routed into SAS EG. This process is accomplished using a simple drag-and-drop function from the location of the data to the grid of SAS EG.  


EG runs an import step where the program will review all variables and recommend types, formats (formats for outputting data), and informats (the process SAS uses to read or input data from external files – instructions to read data) of each variable. Again, all variables are imported as string variables and manipulations to change the formats and informats are discussed in the latter calculations. 


In order to create the calculated fields not included in the dataset, the variables discussed in the Student Clearinghouse Manual, which can be accessed via the National Student Clearinghouse website[2], a calculated field must be applied by simply following these steps:

  1. Right-click the mouse on the imported data file and select query builder.


  2. On the far right of the builder a calculator icon will appear; select that icon.


  3. Select advanced expression which will produce the ability to write a calculation.


According to the manual, the file to upload requires three parameters: a header row, student detail row, and a trailer row. While creating your Student detail rows[3], special attention must be given to “Date of Birth” since the system may warn us of a possible invalid date of birth.


The data elements can be rearranged, added, or omitted during this query builder process. Reviewing the format required in the Student Clearinghouse Guide is imperative for proper formatting.


In the previous image, a dummy variable called “Age” is created to calculate the student’s age as of submission. The calculation must take leap years into consideration to get the most accurate student age. The next step is selecting only students at least 16 years of age (as of today) and ultimately eliminating the “Age” variable from submission. This formula is:

FLOOR((INTCK('month', INPUT(t1.DOB,YYMMDD10.), today()) - (day(today()) < day(INPUT(t1.DOB,YYMMDD10.)))) / 12)

The Request Return Field is a concatenation of the Applicant (Student) ID and two periods on both terminal ends of the field. The concatenation of the period + Applicant (Student) ID + period will protect the ID used to match the original dataset upon return from the National Student Clearinghouse. Terminal zeroes will be eliminated if not protected by the periods; therefore, the concatenation must be removed in the data returned dataset. The formula to concatenate the ID is:
The beauty of these computations is that they allow the StudentTracker® process to be automated in its entirety, from data gathering to upload/download the file via FTPS. This guarantees accurate, readily available data that will enable our institutions to improve benchmark indicators and better allocate resources to students who need them most.


[1] “Who We Are.” National Student Clearinghouse, Accessed June 23, 2018.

[3] “StudentTracker® for Colleges & Universities – User Manual.” National Student Clearinghouse, Accessed June 23, 2018. (p. 23)




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