Where’s the Data?
Partnering With Your Institutional Research Office
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BY JOHN H. PRYOR
In recent years, the call for valid information on the college experience and how colleges impact stu- dents has become more urgent. Whether it is accountability from outside sources or the need to target resources on our own campuses, senior student affairs officers (SSAOs) are increasingly asked to provide data. How many students use programs? What is the impact of a new policy? How are students changing over time? These and other very good questions can cause SSAOs to lose sleep at night.
While SSAOS may have completed a research class in
graduate school or gained practical experience along the way,
most do not consider themselves researchers. SSAOs recognize
they need the answers to the increasing number of questions,
but they do not always know where to find them. After several
years working in student affairs conducting research, often in
a vacuum, I joined the ranks of staff that conduct research for
the entire institution.
Today, nearly every college or university has an Office of
Institutional Research, although the title of the office may
include planning, enrollment, or effectiveness. Regardless
of office or staff titles, institutional researchers are valuable
partners in your quest for data.
What is Institutional Research?
Institutional research (IR) covers a large range of topics. The
Association of Institutional Research (AIR), a national organi-
zation that supports quality data and decisions for higher edu-
cation, offers the following definition: “Research conducted
within an institution of higher education in order to provide
information which supports planning, policy formation, and
While their functions may vary, IR staff are usually respon-
sible for institutional accountability and reporting, and related
tasks that support, and often drive, the institutional response
to accreditation; federal reporting under the Integrated
Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS); responses to