Expanding the Campus IR Function

Lei Wang is Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness at Tallahassee Community College (TCC). She has nearly 20 years of experience in institutional planning, research, and effectiveness and education policy research. Lei spoke with eAIR about expanding the function of IR.  

Interview by Amelia Parnell 

eAIR: Why do you think it is important for the IR function to expand? 

Lei.jpgThe importance of IR has grown in part because of rapid changes taking place in higher education. The leaders of higher education institutions realize they must be strategic in meeting the needs of the students, future employers, and the public. Institutional planning, resource allocation, and policy formation all require data that make possible a deeper understanding of the institution and its properties and attributes.  

IR offices play an increasingly important role on college campuses because they have evolved from being a mechanism for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data to something much bigger. Today, IR personnel provide much more complex and diverse services to meet campus needs. In the future, IR will play an even more vital role in institutions of higher learning. 

It is an exciting, but challenging, time for IR offices and IR professionals. In my view, it is time for colleges to recognize that IR offices need to expand their functions. As Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger point out in their article “The Rise of Big Data” in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, huge amounts of information, now available to researchers, planners, and others, make it possible to see the future much better. We have to be cognizant of the significance of this. 

eAIR: What approaches you are considering to expand your office? 

Some of the approaches I am considering include: 

  1. Expanding the IR knowledge base. While the goal of IR is often defined in terms of the institution, it is, in my view, vitally important for IR professionals to understand how to use data to ensure educational quality and serve students more effectively. I encourage my staff to develop deeper knowledge of higher education so that they can provide data and analyses that truly have relevance.  

  2. Leveraging technology to transform the IR office. Using technology to upgrade work will transform an IR office from routine tasks and improve institutional effectiveness through data and information. In other words, we want to use technology to automate most data requests so that the IR staff can perform higher-level functions. 

  3. Developing measurements for the “intangibles.” The notion that certain things cannot be measured is commonplace in higher education. This isn’t true. Douglas W. Hubbard, author of the book How to Measure Anything (Wiley, 2010), argues that we can quantify anything and everything. We should begin focusing our attention on finding measurements for the “intangibles.”  

  4. Leading or participating in research initiatives. There are many more projects on campus that require institutional data and data analysis than most people realize. Market research is a good example. IR offices can provide valuable institutional data to guide marketing strategies.  

  5. Enabling high-quality research studies. The IR office serves not only as the institution’s “data center,” but also as its “research center.” Research must always be high quality in order to both inform decision making and facilitate major project implementation.  

eAIR: How have you increased the visibility of your IR office?  

TCC President Jim Murdaugh separated the college’s IR function from the Information Technology (IT) division and made it an independent function that reports directly to him. That immediately increased the visibility of the office. It is also important to let people know what your IR office can do. If people can trust your office to do quality work, they will come to see you.