Data Dictionary allows University to report in a common language

April 8, 2014  

What does it mean to be an administrator or a student at Purdue? Although it may seem obvious, when questions such as these are examined closely, it is clear that federal agencies, University departments and even individuals may each have a different definition.

Gerry McCartney, system CIO, vice president for information technology, and the Oesterle Professor of Information Technology, says even the simplest terms can become subject to a variety of opinions.

"For example, if you want to report on the number of administrators on campus, does that include a tenured faculty member who is also a department head? Does it include a student who works 12 hours a week doing administrative tasks?" McCartney says.

Having a variety of definitions across the University creates a problem when collecting data, says Brent Drake, Purdue's chief data officer.

"It's important that when we report numbers for something that we're all counting the same thing," Drake says.

To bring consistency to Purdue's data collection efforts, the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Effectiveness has led an effort to create an authoritative list of official data definitions to be used by faculty and staff on campus. The list of common definitions can be found at

Drake says the list is important for anyone at Purdue who works with data.

"This would include staff members in Human Resources, development, budget and fiscal planning, the enrollment units, the Office of Institutional Research, and anyone who works with business intelligence," Drake says.

McCartney says using the Data Dictionary is an important first step in being able to use data to make decisions.

"If you're squishy on definitions you can make the data say anything you want," McCartney says. "These definitions will allow us to get past sloppy definitions and have a system that will deliver usable information."

The Data Dictionary was developed over the past two months using input from many individuals across the University including representatives from faculty, the regional campuses, Human Resources, University Development Office, the Office of Budget and Fiscal Planning, the Registrar's Office, the Office of Enrollment Management, the Office of Institutional Research, and University data stewards.

"The Data Dictionary was vetted widely across the University to come to a common consensus on the definitions," Drake says. "It is based in part on federal and state definitions, and on the terms used in our budget process, or on very common definitions. In some places there are differences between the Purdue definition and definitions used by federal agencies, and the dictionary lays out those distinctions so the user will know which definition to select."

A University committee will review the definitions quarterly to ensure that the definitions remain current. Anyone with comments suggested changes can submit those to a committee member or directly to Drake.

Current committee members are:

* Thomas Berndt, College of Health and Human Sciences

* Joe Braun, Human Resources

* Maggie Dalrymple, Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Effectiveness

* Brent Drake, Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Effectiveness

* Maria Drake, College of Technology

* Cheryl Gray, Data Stewards

* John Higgins, Office of Budget and Fiscal Planning

* Gillian Leonard, Purdue Calumet

* Steve Lipps, Office of the Registrar

* Kevin Maurer, Housing and Food Services

* Bob Meeks, University Development

* Monal Patel, Office of Enrollment Management Analysis and Reporting

* Rebekkah Porter, Office of Admissions

* David Robledo, College of Engineering

* Stephanie Sanders, Sponsored Programs

* Aaron Waltz, Business Intelligence Competency Center

* Joe Ward, Purdue North Central

* Joel Wenger, Financial Aid

* Bob Wilkinson, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Faculty-Staff News

More News

Purdue University, 610 Purdue Mall, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-4600

© 2014-17 Purdue University | An equal access/equal opportunity university | Integrity Statement | Copyright Complaints | Brand Toolkit | Maintained by Marketing and Media

Trouble with this page? Disability-related accessibility issue? Please contact us at so we can help.