Since its launch in the 1969-1970 academic year, the SREB-State Data Exchange has recognized the importance of reporting statistical comparisons by institutional category — unlike most other statistical reports, even today. States have many different mixes of types of institutions, and statewide aggregate comparisons always should be interpreted cautiously.
Designed for use in making statistical comparisons among states, the SREB system for categorizing postsecondary education institutions is based on a number of factors relevant to determining resource requirements. Institutions are classified based on size (numbers of degrees or full-time-equivalent enrollment), role (types of degrees), breadth of program offerings (number of program areas in which degrees are granted), and comprehensiveness (distribution of degrees across program areas). The SREB classifications do not take into accounts other factors relevant to determining resource requirements such as cost differences among programs or externally funded research. Beginning in 2001-2002, classifications for two-year colleges and technical institutes or colleges are divided into subcategories based on institutional enrollment.
The SREB-State Data Exchange also recognizes that different categorization schemes may be suited to different purposes. Many states use narrower peer group comparisons, which sometimes include institutions outside the SREB region, for purposes other than interstate statistical comparisons. For example, many funding formulas for higher education incorporate peer-group comparisons.
The SREB-State Data Exchange has assisted states in analyzing alternative peer groups since 1991, when SREB began making the by-college data available through an online data library. SREB publications show results using the categories listed in this section.