Impacting Student Success: A Non-Traditional IR Role

​Corey Wrinn is Director of Institutional Research at Choate Rosemary Hall  

Interview by Allan Taing, Research Analyst, California State University-Fullerton

CWrinn.pngeAIR: Tell us more about your role as an IR director in a secondary school setting.

So far, my role at Choate Rosemary Hall has been part facilitator, part analyst, and part teacher. I’ve spent time introducing the concept of institutional research to my colleagues and providing examples of my work to show how I can help their department. There are a number of untapped data sources and there is a desire to dig into what we already have regarding student course loads, campus climate, and the student experience. I like to say we’re trying to become more “data informed."

The work my office is doing at Choate is brand new to the institution and has been a welcome development for many on campus. Like most institutions, Choate has been collecting application, enrollment, and alumni data for years, but didn’t have the opportunity to dig into it to provide a resource for the community. In the year I’ve been at Choate, my workload has been increasing in not only volume, but also in variety. It’s satisfying to work on such a range of projects, including understanding student relationships, identifying new markets, and predicting financial need.

eAIR: What are some of the similarities in your current position compared to your experience in a traditional IR office in higher education, and conversely, what are some of the differences?

The main similarity between my role at Choate and my previous roles in higher education is that people are excited to use data to enhance strategic decision making to help make the most of the student experience. Ultimately we’re all here to support our students as they develop, and there is an eagerness to use survey results and assessment data to their fullest capacity. The question I’m answering is “How can we use the data we’re already collecting to answer some questions we’ve had for a long time?”

At the secondary level, there are fewer national common data sets such as IPEDS and fewer common surveys such as NSSE. Most of the work I’m doing here doesn’t yet have comparisons. We’re creating new baselines not only for our school, but for our peers as well.

This is an exciting time to leverage the abilities of an institutional research office to be at the forefront of data analysis, definitions, and research among secondary schools; specifically boarding schools. I’ve begun making connections with others at the secondary level to begin piloting studies and being a repository for inter-school research.

eAIR: Can you speak more about applying IR-related skills in a non-traditional setting?

The skills that accompany an IR professional are similar to those of financial analysts or business consultants: taking complex, sometimes messy, bits of information and putting it all together to answer questions and provide recommendations. In my mind, the processes at Choate aren’t any different than at a college or university, but the questions are sometimes different. There is more focus on parents and family communication, which is a great thing considering these students are 14 to 18, not college aged. This allows IR the opportunity to move beyond the traditional external submissions and be involved in all aspects of the school culture.

eAIR: From your experience, how can K-12 and postsecondary systems better leverage their IR efforts for student attainment?

The measurable goal in higher education is clear: graduating your students - preferably with marketable, usable skills and low student debt. At the secondary level, especially at a very highly regarded and challenging school such as Choate, the outcomes are different. All our students graduate and go on to college, either right away or after some sort of gap year, so graduation is not the measurable goal. It’s more what our students acquire along the way. By the time our students graduate, each has developed more as an individual than at any other point in his or her life. We want to be there to support that growth and development.

The next step for IR, then, is to track and measure this growth and development; what is the difference we are making in the lives of our students? Measuring the progress or acquisition of academic skills is more familiar to the higher education world, but I aim to do that here as well. However, many of the goals Choate seeks for students, such as quality of character, intellectual inquiry, and a global perspective, are hard to measure. Nonetheless, by implementing longitudinal research projects we hope to get a better sense of the impact Choate has had on our students, both here and beyond. We want to learn from the students while they’re here, but also reach out to them after they graduate to get a better sense of the lasting impact of a Choate education.

 
 

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