Institutional researchers are committed to providing critical information to decision makers at colleges and universities.
external surveys from organizations such as US News & World
Report and Peterson’s Guide; and other demands from public
and private sectors. IR office staff are often asked to provide
data to the institution’s president or provost about faculty
activity, faculty salaries, space allocation, enrollment management, and assessment. The office is at the hub of efforts
to collect student data for surveys, such as the Cooperative
Institutional Research Program (CIRP) and the National
Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).
Only about 30 higher education institutions have specialized IR offices in student affairs. These offices are usually more
focused on student affairs issues and program evaluation.
Unfortunately, many of these offices are short-lived and are
absorbed into traditional IR offices after several years.
The duties of the IR office are usually heavily influenced
by whether the office reports to the president, provost, or a
divisional vice president. If the president needs a space utilization study, it might take priority over an alcohol and other
drug survey of students requested by the dean of students. The
size of the office also impacts its ability to conduct research.
In some cases the office might consist of one person, in other
cases it may include 10 staff members. Growth can be cyclical
with more staff added during the accreditation process.
Who are Institutional Researchers?
While IR staff typically enjoy what they do, it is not often
chosen as a career path. IR staff members come from such
diverse disciplines as sociology, psychology, math, and economics. A staff member could be a graduate of a doctoral program who decided not to pursue a faculty position; a faculty
member introduced to institutional data through committee
work; or staff who have transitioned from registrar’s offices or
information systems. While IR degree programs are uncommon, IR certificate programs can be found in select graduate
schools of education in the United States.
Institutional researchers are committed to providing critical
information to decision makers at colleges and universities.
Given that commitment, why do they not return e-mails or
phone calls? In a word, they are overworked.
IR staff must handle multiple demands from multiple constituents, including requests from numerous committees and
required IPEDS submissions to the federal government. In
recent years, the attention given to US News & World Report
college rankings has hit a fever pitch. As soon as the new
rankings are published in August, IR offices across the country
must answer questions about their institutions’ placements in
the survey and how they can be improved. Months of analysis