Institutional Research and Higher Education Data Policy

​By Gina Johnson, AIR Assistant Executive Director for Partnerships & Membership

Before I entered the field of institutional research, I spent time as a data analyst on the policy team at the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. There I was exposed to the importance of access to quality, comparative higher education data to help state policymakers make informed decisions. It was also there that I was introduced to the concept of institutional research and its professional association, AIR. Once I completed my Ph.D. and joined an IR team, I spent my energies honing my knowledge of and skills in the field and let my policy knowledge falter. I made an unfair distinction between “policy folks” and “data folks.” I now know better.

AIR understands the value of multiple perspectives in creating meaningful and effective higher education data policy. Some individuals know policy well and some know data and information well. This collective knowledge allows us to advocate for strong policies that improve both. As a non-profit organization, AIR can work with other associations and groups to contribute the perspective of institutional research, effectiveness, and assessment experts to the data policy conversation. We can advocate for policies, regulations, and legislation that support improved data availability, infrastructure, metrics, and transparency. We can also provide technical assistance and educate the broader community about the potential impacts of policies, regulations, and legislation. We cannot, however, ask a legislator to vote for, against, or amend a specific bill or mobilize AIR members or stakeholders to take action for or against a bill.

As an association, AIR works in myriad ways to provide technical assistance and education to improve the national and state data infrastructure and to engage with members and partners to share the voice of data and information professionals. AIR connects with other higher education organizations interested in strengthening data policy through our participation in the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) PostSec Data Collaborative, where partners can learn from one another, build collaborative projects, and support each other’s work in this space. AIR partnered with IHEP, the American Council on Education (ACE) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to host Data Policy Summits in 2017 and 2018, and is currently planning the 2019 Summit with IHEP. The summits provided opportunities for experts in all aspects of data policy, from national organizations and institutions, to share perspectives, develop deeper understanding, and network with colleagues to advance common goals and objectives. Many AIR members from a variety of institutional, system, and organizational settings attended these events.

In June, AIR launched its inaugural Data Policy Advisory Group, made up of 34 members representing personal, organizational, and geographic diversity. Serving a two-year term, members of the group will provide input to AIR and its partners on matters related to state and federal higher education data policy. The group has already provided feedback related to the latest IPEDS Technical Review Panel on CIP codes and will be sharing their perspectives on timely and important topics throughout the year. AIR members and stakeholders are urged to follow the work of the group via the AIR webpage, eAIR updates, and social media.

Institutional research, effectiveness, and assessment professionals are incredibly busy people with many priorities competing for their time. Involving oneself in the higher education policy realm by both sharing one’s perspective to shape policy and sharing how policy changes may impact your institution, system, or organization can seem a daunting task. With the work outlined above, AIR seeks to assist its members and stakeholders in bridging this gap through collaboration and education.



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