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The Student Unit Record (SURE) system is designed to strengthen the capacity of New Jersey Higher Education to discharge its research, planning, and coordinating responsibilities, and to assist institutions in a variety of ways, e.g., by tracking their transfers, reducing their need to fill out forms, etc. It is a comprehensive collection, storage, and retrieval system for computer-readable data on each student enrolled and on each graduate. All 31 of New Jersey's public colleges and universities—and ten independent institutions — currently participate in SURE. The enrollment components of SURE are fall and spring semester "snapshots", a 12-month enrollment file and a new transfer file; the degrees conferred component captures data for an entire academic/(state fiscal) year; and a non-credit file provides data on registrations for training that does not lead to college credits. Institutions submit their SURE files by FTP to the New Jersey Higher Education’s Office of Research & Accountability, which processes and analyzes the data. Each student record bears a unique identifier—a social security number (SSN)—as well as various student-specific demographic, academic, and education process data. There are 41 such variables to be reported for each enrollment snapshot, 16 variables on the 12-month enrollment files, 32 for new transfers, 25 for each graduate, and 17 for the non-credit registrations.
The unit record format provides an enriched data base, permitting much more sophisticated analyses than are possible with aggregate data. The use of a standard, unique identifier permits the tracking of students, as well as the merging of SURE data with other Commission, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) data bases (e.g., TAG/EOF). Both features greatly enhance our ability to report—and to assist institutions in reporting—the outcomes of higher education, increasingly needed to respond to pressures on the higher education system for greater accountability. NJ higher Educationalso aggregates each institutional member’s data into IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) formats, thus doing away with the need to fill out any forms on enrolled students or degrees conferred.
SURE data is housed at the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) under industry standard security disciplines and methods. Data transmissions are protected by the use of several encryption/authentication/protection methods. The HESAA network is protected by the use of a network hardware-based access control list, an industry-leading firewall, and an intrusion prevention system. Protocols regarding controlled access to data are in place, and the HESAA facility is physically secured.
Certain principles have guided the development of the SURE system; major considerations included maintaining the confidentiality of individual-level data, as well as facilitating research and planning at both the statewide and institutional levels. In order to minimize any possibility of the release of sensitive personal data, SURE has never collected students’ names, street addresses or birthdays (birth years are collected to determine student age). SURE's file structure design and organization, the use of statistical/data management software, and a dual mainframe/PC computing environment address the goal of facilitating research. In addition, New Jersey Higher Education (NJHE) makes the SAS computer programs it develops accessible to participants. Another major objective has been the standardization and comparability of data. SURE data is considered the reporting institution’s data; therefore, all changes to original files are made only with the knowledge and consent of institutional SURE coordinators.
The SURE system produces aggregate statistics on each institution that are used to fulfill certain federal and state reporting requirements. Staff has been designated by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as New Jersey’s coordinator for their national data system, IPEDS. In this capacity we compile SURE data to meet their standards and upload it to the federal IPEDS website relieving the institutions from the reporting burdens of annual Completions and Enrollment surveys. SURE system data are also used by NJHE staff to perform various analyses. For example, serially constructed data sets are produced for systemwide longitudinal studies of retention, attrition, and other issues where temporal relationships are important.
In addition to supporting systemwide outcomes research and reducing institutional reporting burdens, SURE offers participating institutions opportunities to conduct their own customized research. They can obtain the longitudinal files on their entering first-time cohorts. Also available upon request are Participant Use Files, one for each semester's enrollment and one for each year's degrees, which together contain a complete (systemwide) set of data, modified by removal of the SSNs (to prevent disclosure of confidential information). Finally, our research staff performs special analyses for individual institutions and other entities upon request.
In the first year (1985), the state colleges/universities initiated system development with their pilot fall enrollment submissions. They were joined in 1986, also on a test basis, by 18 of the 19 community colleges. Rutgers submitted its SURE pilot in fall 1987; NJIT followed suit the next year, and UMDNJ, the next (1989). The one remaining community college joined the system in 1990. The degrees component phase-in followed a slightly different schedule, starting in 1986-87; the last degrees conferred pilot was produced in 1990-91. In 1995 three independent institutions joined SURE; seven others have joined since then. In 2007, a 12-month enrollment file was submitted by public colleges for the first time and community colleges provided NJHE with non-credit data. The new transfer file, submitted by senior public institutions in order to create an Annual Report to the Governor and Legislature on Transfers, began in Fall 2008. In 2012, NJHE, in partnership with the NJ deparments of Education and Labor and Workforce Development, was awarded an SLDS (Statewide Longitudinal System) grant by the US Department of Education which will enable the SURE system to be upgraded and modernized.