A New Vision for Institutional Research

By Leah Ewing Ross, Consultant, Association for Institutional Research

This month, AIR will release the Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research.Lead-Story-Graphic-dark.png

The Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research establishes a future-oriented vision of high-quality institutional research practices centered on student success. It is a response to myriad disruptive innovations in higher education, including new technologies, new business structures, and new data, all of which increase capacity for information that supports decision making. The new vision for IR presented in the aspirational statement stems from changes in the field—that is, more people have access to the tools and data that used to reside solely in the IR office. In addition, growing numbers of stakeholders are broadly engaged in the use of data and information to make decisions on tactical, operational, and strategic levels.


The concept for the Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research grew out of conversations in the field about the conditions necessary for effective IR functions in support of student success. As one of three projects that comprise the Improving and Transforming Institutional Research in Postsecondary Education initiative, the aspirational statement was crowdsourced to ensure that it resonates with producers and consumers of institutional research.  

“Every institution should have students and their success as the primary focus. There is great value in identifying institutional research functions and institutional practices that will help maintain this focus throughout our work.”
—Elgin Community College

To kick off this project, AIR members responded to an open call for ideas about a future-oriented vision for IR. Subject matter experts (also AIR members) vetted those ideas and provided guidance on the crafting of the aspirational statement. As the statement developed, a wide variety of higher education stakeholders and leaders, including AIR members, were interviewed and provided feedback on drafts of the statement. 

Ten colleges and universities piloted the first complete draft of the statement: Bridgepoint Education; Elgin Community College; Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Olin College of Engineering; Spelman College; Spokane Falls Community College; University of Denver; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; University of Wisconsin-Stout; and Utah Valley University. Feedback gathered from the pilot sites—recognized as the Founding Institutions of the Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research—was used to fine-tune the statement and ensure that it is visionary and action-oriented.


The Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research is designed as a vehicle with which to initiate conversations among producers and consumers of IR. It provides opportunities to rethink the scope and capacity of the IR function, which is broader than the traditional IR office. That is, the statement encourages readers to consider institution-wide functions of data use and analysis as well as the role of an IR office.

“This is a real paradigm shift. This is not just continuous improvement, but reengineering of the institutional research function—a cultural change.”
—Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

The report featuring the statement includes suggestions for creating a call to action by vetting the statement with stakeholders and decision makers. Gatherings that include representatives from academic affairs, student affairs, IR, and other units on campus will set the stage for rich conversations about data and decision making. Together, participants can determine which components of the statement apply to your institution, which are aspirational, and how resources can be used to achieve desired goals in fulfillment of this new vision for IR.

AIR members are encouraged to read the forthcoming report, share the material with decision makers, and take active roles in convening groups to discuss the ideas presented in the aspirational statement. We look forward to learning about the conversations that take place at your institution.

AIR expresses great appreciation for Amelia Parnell and Kristina Powers, whose contributions to the planning, exploration, and foundational work of this project were instrumental in the development of the Statement of Aspirational Practice for Institutional Research.




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