AIR Travel Grant Furthers Research

Kang Bai (Assistant Provost, Southeast Missouri State University) and Ying Zhou (Associate Provost, East Carolina University) co-presented Using Mediation and Moderation Modeling to Analyze Effects on Retention at the 2015 AIR Forum in Denver. They were two of 19 winners of the 2015 AIR Affiliated Organization (AO) Travel Grant, created to partner with AOs and serve the skill development needs of institutional researchers who might otherwise be unable to attend the Forum. Qualifying AOs receive matching funds from AIR on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to $1,000. 


eAIR: 2015 was the inaugural year of the AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant. Can you share how you learned of the grant and how the process worked?

We participated in the Virtual Conference of the Overseas Chinese Association for Institutional Research (OCAIR) to share our research and receive feedback from colleagues. Later, the Chair of OCAIR informed us that our presentation had been selected as the best OCAIR presentation and we would be awarded the 2015 AIR AO Travel Grant. We were pleased that the decision was based on members’ scholarly/professional work.

eAIR: What was your reaction when you found out you had been awarded a 2015 AIR Affiliated Organization Travel Grant?

We were appreciative of the award and humbled by the honor of winning the best OCAIR presentation. Many OCAIR and AIR members have produced professional work of similar or higher quality, and our work was inspired by their previous research. We feel the obligation to give back to AIR because this organization has provided so much for its members: opportunities for professional development, networking, research and dissertation grants, recognition for professional achievement, etc. We are also grateful for OCAIR and its members who have generously given us professional support, mentoring, and guidance over the years. 

eAIR: Have you initiated any research projects that were inspired by ideas shared at the 2015 AIR Forum?

At the 2015 Forum, our focus was on predictive analytics and the transformation of research results into actionable intelligence. Through pre-Forum workshops, concurrent sessions, and enriching conversations with colleagues, we formed new ideas to improve our research and practices, which benefits our institutions. After attending a pre-Forum workshop on building a student-at-risk prediction model using SPSS, Kang decided to embark on a similar project in his institution. Successful deployment of predictive analytics tools and student tracking platforms is particularly exciting. Although these tools are still being tested and models are being refined, they depict a new horizon of institutional research. In summer, East Carolina University established a predictive analytics team with members from IR, Assessment, Admissions, Retention Services and Undergraduate Studies, and the Student Affairs Division. Two projects are currently underway: matriculation of transfer students and first-year retention.    

eAIR: What advice would you share with AIR Forum participants to help them make the most of their conference experiences?

We highly encourage IR professionals to take advantage of sharing professional accomplishments and learning from their colleagues at the Forum. Workshops are a great place for in-depth training in a focused area. We learned that you need to register for workshops early because seats for these hot topics run out quickly!

Because of the variety of topics presented in concurrent sessions, we always plan our schedules ahead of time. We are interested in educational policy discussions, new approaches and solutions (predictive analytics in particular), data visualization, and, of course, applied research in IR. For those who are new to IR, you may want to choose the topics closely related to your responsibilities. For seasoned IR practitioners, join the discussions about the future of our profession. We need to continue “re-inventing” ourselves to stay on the cutting edge.

The best part of the conference is its intellectual and collegial environment. People generously share their experiences and provide recommendations.  

eAIR: What was your biggest take-away from the 2015 Forum in Denver?

Two of the most important things at an AIR Forum are learning and networking, and the 2015 Forum was no exception. For example, feedback from our presentation gave us new ideas to further our research; a pre-Forum workshop introduced us to a new approach for identifying at-risk students, which could be applied right away; concurrent sessions on dashboard and follow-up conversations with colleagues helped us frame a solid plan to initiate a dashboard project; and predictive modeling and associated technology platforms motivated us to keep up with the leading institutions in the field. As always, we reconnected with our old friends and colleagues, and got to know some new and very talented people.

IR is a rapidly changing field. Our clientele is expanding from senior administrators to admissions staff, advisors, student affairs professionals, faculty, etc. The amount of data collected by institutions grows exponentially every day, but data are often stored in separate, segmented databases, which impedes systematic analyses of patterns and behaviors. IR professionals need to grow their expertise, become the leading force, and collaborate with functional offices on campus to advance data analytics and quickly turn results to actionable intelligence.  

eAIR: Can you share an example of a project or report you initiated based on knowledge gained through your membership with AIR?

The research project we presented at the 2015 AIR Forum was inspired by a study presented at the 2013 AIR Forum in Long Beach. We attended a concurrent session on modeling the direct and indirect relationships between predictive factors and retention. The presenter Yue Ma, demonstrated the advantage of using mediation modeling over traditional regression analysis in identifying the factors that had significant direct and indirect effects on the retention behavior of undergraduate first-time, full-time freshmen. After returning from Long Beach, we began learning and testing mediation modeling, ventured into moderation modeling, “discovered” the PROCESS Macro developed by Andrew Hayes, and initiated a retention project using both mediation and moderation modeling. The ultimate success of our research project was possible, in part, due to our membership in AIR and the valuable connections made at the Forum.