Interview with Bob Schwartz

Robert A. Schwartz is Professor of Higher Education, Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and Director of the IR Certificate Program at Florida State University.  

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross 

eAIR: Please briefly describe your professional background with specific attention to how you developed an interest in IR.

My primary background has been in higher education—first as a mid-level manager (assistant dean and many other duties) after my master’s degree. Then, after my doctoral program at Indiana University, I re-emerged as a faculty member, first at the University of South Carolina and then at Florida State University (FSU).  

Once at FSU, I revamped a course on student outcomes and taught research methods courses. Terry Russell, past Executive Director of AIR, was a Courtesy Professor in our department at the time, so I came to know AIR through Terry. In fact, the AIR office was on the second floor of our building. 

More than 12 years ago, AIR issued an RFP to develop an education/training program for IR practitioners. FSU was one of the institutions selected to receive grant money for the initiative, and we created an 18-credit certificate. Most of the curriculum was delivered online, except for one week in Tallahassee in the summer. It went well and is now institutionalized in our higher education program. So, from that initial grant, I have been very involved with AIR and still am.  

eAIR: In your role as a faculty member in a higher education graduate program, what have you discovered about how people “find” IR? 

IR is still a well-kept secret as a profession. I think people continue to “stumble” into it, although we are intentional in talking about IR with master’s and doctoral students in our program. We describe the value and importance of IR and talk a lot about data, data collection, and analysis on institutional and system-wide bases.  

Many of the practitioners who come to the FSU IR Certificate Program via the AIR website, the AIR Forum, and even word of mouth got into IR through a variety of avenues. Some were faculty members, others worked on campuses and were recruited to IR by colleagues, and some were attracted to the field by higher salaries or because they like working with numbers.  

eAIR: What are the challenges of delivering IR-related content in the online learning environment?   

IR-related content is well-suited for the online environment. We use actual databases to explain IR and show people how it works so they quickly learn to use IPEDS and other databases. We start slow, but it is best if students can “learn by doing.” In our Intro to IR class, students set up their own focused, small-scale, IR-oriented research projects so they can see how it works.  

eAIR: What is your brief “elevator ride” explanation for why participation in an IR certificate program is valuable? 

It is hard to think of a position in higher education at any level or at any type of institution that is not touched by IR. Regardless of what a person wants to do—from working with students, to fundraising, to academic research, and even management positions—you have to be able to interpret, understand, and analyze data, especially from your own institution. For example, using IPEDS to compare your institution to others gives you a whole different perspective, alerts you to changes in the environment and to areas for concern, and highlights areas of potential growth and expansion.

eAIR: What advice would you offer individuals who are exploring IR certificate program options? 

As you explore different programs, consider: What is your initial impression? Are the individuals affiliated with the program helpful and engaging? Do they have good reputations? Is the price reasonable?   

eAIR: If you could go on a trip of a lifetime in 2013, where would you go, and why?  

I would visit South Africa. I have a good friend who does a lot of research there and he always raves about it. But I would like to be transported (“beam me up, Scotty”) as the plane ride is a killer!  

Note: Robert Schwartz will join William Knight (Ball State University) to host a session entitled Faculty Who Teach IR on Tuesday, May 21 at the AIR Forum in Long Beach.