Complex Issues and Trends in Research

​Craig Abbey is Associate Vice President and Director of Institutional Analysis at the University at Buffalo

Craig-Abbey.jpgeAIR: Please tell us a little about your work at The Center for Measuring University Performance (MUP).

The Center for Measuring University Performance is a research enterprise focused on the competitive national context for major research universities. Each year we produce a report called the Top American Research Universities, which provides benchmarking and rankings on nine measures of university performance. We aim to be a source for reliable data and conduct various studies on improving research universities.

eAIR: How did you become involved with MUP?

I began working with MUP while I was at the State University of New York System Administration working for Betty Phillips (née Capaldi). She and John Lombardi founded the Center when they were both at the University of Florida.

eAIR: What do you believe has been one of the most impactful research projects you have worked on at the center to date?

One of the first projects that I worked on with MUP was an analysis of the impact of medicine and engineering on research university performance. Combining data from the NSF, AAMC, and the ASEE, we were able to show how much of an institution’s performance was linked to their medical and engineering schools. While not denying in any way the benefits from high degrees of specialization that occur in many medical centers, an institution with substantial amounts of its work focused on medical center activities may have less of an engagement with undergraduate education, less involvement in master’s and Ph.D. education, and less engagement with other fields, such as business or education.

eAIR: What is your fascination with dashboards, and how do you use them in your work at University at Buffalo and MUP?

I have always been drawn to data visualization and facts. When I was young, I had a paper route and delivered the USA Today along with our local paper. I always read the snapshots and infographics that appear in the lower left hand area of each section. As an undergraduate, I began teaching Microsoft Office classes. Before I became an IR professional, I worked at the federal and state levels as a policy analyst, where graphics became a key tool for explaining complex issues and trends. Later, when I started working at the SUNY System Administration, I needed a way to communicate the performance of the 64 campuses in the SUNY system. Dashboards in Excel provided a way of focusing on key performance indicators and a way of conveying a lot of information in manageable form. At Buffalo, we use Tableau to report on various operational and strategic metrics important to the management and operation of the university. Dashboards are never the whole story, but they provide a common base of knowledge from which productive conversations can begin.

eAIR: How has your membership with AIR positively impacted your career path or research interests?

The value of my AIR membership has evolved along with my institutional research career. When I was a new member and new to institutional research, AIR membership provided me with great professional development opportunities to improve my skill set and think about new ways of analyzing data. I learned a lot and was able to apply what I learned in my job at the SUNY System office to advance my career. As I grew as an institutional researcher and began to share my knowledge with others, the experience presenting in sessions and workshops helped develop some skills needed to run an IR office. The professional networking that AIR membership provides continues to be a great benefit.