The federal governments main date system -IPEDS- does not include part time students, and counts transfers from the first institution who complete their programs as a drop out from the first institution. This is very significant because less than half of postsecondary students in the United States fit into the category of students IPEDS tracks. We know the solutions: IPEDS should be abandoned in favor of a student level database (often referred to as student unit records or SUR). Indeed in 2005, NCES issued a report that investigated the feasibility of such a system. NCES concluded that it would be necessary to collect accurate student-level information on persistence systemwide. It would also be necessary to collect student-level information on prices and financial aid, in order to calculate net prices that take into account the individual circumstances of each student.
However, the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, specifically bans the US Department of Education from collecting such individual student level data. Much of the higher education lobby pushed to keep the flawed IPEDS intact to preserve the information asymmetry that allows them to continue their practices with limited scrutiny.
The whole political story is in a paper by former NCES Commisioner, Mark Schneider called The Politics Of Higher Education. You can access this and other provocative papers on postsecondary policy at :