CB and SP Codes: What You Need to Know and Why

Copper Mountain College, Curriculum Committee
Santiago Canyon College, Curriculum Committee

System-wide success measures and benchmarking are increasingly a part of our local dialog. When faculty review the Accountability Reporting for the Community Colleges (ARCC) report or the Chancellor’s Office DataMart results, they often feel that the reports do not accurately reflect the activity of our programs. For this reason, faculty should know how the work we do locally is translated into system-wide information.

The Data Element Dictionary defines the language your MIS department uses to communicate with the Chancellor’s Office. Each college must follow the same protocol to report our programs and activities. In most colleges, the questions we answer during the curriculum process relate to the data elements; however, the level of specificity and the degree to which faculty are relied upon to provide specific information for reporting may vary across our schools. Are you aware of how your program activity is coded and submitted to the System Office? Do you know who you can ask in your MIS/IT department to find out what labels are on your course and program data?

There are 20 unique sets of data, each labeled by a two letter designator reported to the Chancellor’s Office on a regular basis. Within each data set are fields labeled by a two number designator. The datasets prepared by your MIS/IT department transmit information about everything the college does, ranging from employee assignments (EJ) to financial aid data (SF and FA), from Perkins (SV) numbers to matriculation statistics (SM). Of particular importance to faculty are the course basic (CB) and student program (SP) data elements.

The CB file communicates key course data to the Chancellor’s Office. Some data elements duplicate catalog information, while others may not show up in any published documents. Whether published or not, faculty should always review this information. Among the elements that you might need to review are the following:

  • CB03 is where the TOP code is housed. If you have ever looked up the California community college Taxonomy of Programs (TOP), you know that which code is used is often a matter of local interpretation. Faculty should review the TOP codes and ensure that courses and programs are placed in the appropriate category.
  • CB04 and CB05 delineate whether a course is for credit and whether it transfers to a CSU or UC. Curriculum committees determine CSU transferability and should also ensure that such determination is appropriately reflected in the data elements; however, UC transferability is determined by UC campuses working with our articulation officers. Curriculum chairs should know how the local MIS/IT department is notified when articulation is confirmed. If the proper department is not notified, there may be errors with this code. If all of the courses in your program transfer to both systems, the data should reflect that information.
  • CB08 indicates whether a course is basic skills or not. If you designate a course as both basic skills and degree applicable, you will generate a MIS error.
  • CB09 is especially important for vocational programs because it describes the level of vocational applicability for a given course, which is important input in Perkins Core Indicator calculations.
  • CB21 is perhaps the best publicized code because of the large scale effort to properly code our basic skills courses. In order to see statewide student movement through basic skills, discipline faculty were asked to map local courses to a common template in order to show levels of progression. The CB21 code indicates how many levels below transfer your course is. By looking at these codes for a sequence of courses, we are able to track student progress towards transfer level coursework.
  • CB24 designates whether your course is program applicable or stand-alone. A program applicable course must be required in the major (or area of emphasis) or be a restricted elective. Any credit course that does not fall into one of these categories is stand-alone.


The SP file, transmitting student program completion data, is much simpler than the CB file:

  • SP01 indicates the subject area, by TOP code, of the student degree or certificate.
  • SP02 delineates whether the award is credit or non-credit as well as the type of degree or certificate earned.
  • SP03 tells when a student completed the program
  • SP04 maps the completion back to the unique five digit code the Chancellor’s Office assigned when the program was originally submitted.


If faculty are concerned that the Chancellor’s Office Data Mart does not reflect actual student completion in a program, they should check to ensure that no errors exist in these data elements. Does your curriculum committee review these data elements when new or existing programs are discussed? Just like the CB03, it is essential that the faculty take the lead in determining the TOP code assigned to a program.

Many other codes are also used for reporting to the Chancellor’s Office, but the list above gives a good start to understanding the way the data system is organized. Why do we need to worry about all of these codes? Curriculum is the purview and responsibility of the faculty and proper coding is part of that responsibility. If we are not willing to ensure that information is reported properly to the Chancellor’s Office, then the information according to which colleges are increasingly being measured will be inaccurate. Such inaccuracies can at the least create confusion and additional work and ultimately could impact the structure and even the funding of our academic programs.