How Do Your Skills and Objectives Fit with the National Picture of IR?

Dnash.jpgo you work in a centralized IR office? Is your work focused primarily on students and student success? Are you charged with planning-related responsibilities? Do you have the skills to analyze data, write reports, interpret policy, and communicate effectively with myriad stakeholders? 

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, your work resonates with IR offices across the U.S., as highlighted in a National Association of System Heads (NASH) study that illuminates the work of IR at state system offices and the institutions that report to system offices.  

Information and observations about these topics (and more) are featured in the NASH report, Meeting Demand for Improvements in Public System Institutional Research. The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and included a national survey conducted by AIR. AIR members were both participants in and advisors to the survey.

Findings include: 

  • At the majority of systems and campuses, the IR function is carried out by a centralized office.
  • Nearly all respondents (94 percent of campuses and 97 percent of systems) reported that the relative focus of IR projects is on students and student-related research.
  • Short- and long-term planning are areas of high or very high focus.
  • More than half of campus IR offices reported high or very high impact of IR in improving campus decision making and student success.
  • Finance-related issues receive less focus than other topics. Personnel issues receive slightly more focus.
  • Few system and campus IR offices reported having connections to external databases related to workforce, K-12, and career/technical education.
  • IR producers and users see a need to bring new skills and perspectives to IR. IR leaders see a need to reshape IR capacity.

The NASH survey data are available to AIR members. Researchers and graduate students are invited to review the survey instrument and develop additional research questions and analyses to apply to this significant dataset.  

You can view the NASH report and request the survey data HERE.




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Total Comments: 10
Erin posted on 4/10/2014 12:06 PM
This research and the resulting NASH report is very thought provoking particularly as my office begins the process of restructuring.
Song posted on 4/10/2014 12:15 PM
I just want to add another IR top goal: to improve assessment skills of faculty members. I have found a big problem after almost two year working in IR, many instructors in universities have no or little knowledge of how to analyze test items.
Meg posted on 4/10/2014 12:43 PM
Great summary of the report. Highly recommend reading the whole thing.
Gerry posted on 4/10/2014 12:56 PM
A very interesting report that challenges the association to build the community of practice of IR with engaged members and professional development programs. Two initial observations. At one time AIR did sponsor institutes for teams of college executive that focused on strengthening their ability to make data informed decisions and did sponsor institutes that developed both basic and advanced skills for institutional researchers. The other point is the reminder that while a study of IR in state systems is informative and there are probably commonalities across the profession- this is a unique set of IR types and do not represent all IR types. For example, IR at private institutions may well vary substantially from IR in a state system school. Don't forget external validity. :-)
Jonathan posted on 4/10/2014 2:37 PM
I think that the report is pretty accurate with respect to the following:

"IR" offices focused primarily on student and student related research, with reporting and any research in other topical areas (resource use, efficiency and effectiveness, and personnel) handled by the budget and human relations offices.“

“The surveys also show frequent disconnections between system and campus IR offices, caused by different IT systems and data definitions, even inside a single campus as well as within systems. This limits capacity for either system or campus decision makers to compare performance across campuses or systems, to understand the reasons for differences and to use data to drive improvements. While gaps exist in data governance and infrastructure among systems and their campuses, there is also a redundancy in reporting between system and campus, perhaps necessitated by different audiences for the different levels of work. This contributes to confusion about basic measures and metrics, and also gets in the way of potential efforts for greater sharing of work between campuses and systems in order to free up staff to do other things.”

That’s not a criticism of IR, it’s an investigation into the historical limitations of the office and how those previous restrictions have limited our ability to provide data, analysis, and input into emerging topics such as facility usage, cost/benefit/outcome analysis, and strategic planning. I also thought the comments with regard to data collections and distribution redundancies was spot on (as in IR vs. IT/IRT).

Overall, I think that this report was a VERY accurate representation of how the field of IR needs to grow and develop to into areas such as Institutional Effectiveness, Planning, Usage, and Efficiency. As things stand, we may get to do projects relating to those topics on an ad-hoc basis, but we are not a fixed part of those processes, and that’s a problem for both IR and the institution as a whole.
Ken posted on 4/11/2014 4:33 AM
Excellent Report, and of particular interest: " a desire to do more to identify and promote some of the emerging practices in IR in the systems and campuses that seem to be ahead of the game, to find efficient ways to connect to workforce data, improve data analytics, and do a better job of presenting complicated information in ways that are digestible to decision-makers." While the IR process (generally) is to collect, analyze, and report, it is critical to ensure that these holistic processes foster maximization of understanding and applicability in the institution. This report addresses that much needed outcome and 'connectedness' between IR and decision-makers at all levels, from leadership down into the classroom.
Eric posted on 4/11/2014 9:26 AM
This is an interesting, informative report! I think it is typical that IR offices generally deal least with personnel, finance, and facilities. Something that caught my attention is the very low percentage of professional development from the system office for campus offices. There's no doubt that everybody is busy and it takes time to plan professional development. However, IR people who work at campuses in a state system need to have opportunities for training and professional development so they can better understand and support their state systems.

Thank you for sharing this report!
Barbara posted on 4/12/2014 2:22 PM
Great report. How closely does it align with your view? How could this article (1) be used to foster discussion across campus about what it is you do, (2) be used as evidence to support your goal for improved operations, (3) be used as one tool to help orient new researchers to the IR world?

How do the findings align with the community college world? Being from the 2-year community college, I wondered why the report did not interview people from our group (has it been done before by AIR?). The Research and Planning (RP) Group for California Community Colleges conducted a similar survey in 2009 of its members:

Some highlights (okay, copying) of the findings overlap somewhat with what was found in the AIR study: The study revealed a sector in transition: the scope of work of research offices is increasing despite flat or declining budgets. IR offices are being asked to provide more evidence for a wider range of practitioners, but this is problematic. Practitioners need more support, different types of data, and tailored communications for this information to be useful, but researchers’ time is largely spent on producing research and reports. As a result, there is little to no time to work with practitioners to understand and integrate research findings into practice. The study points to the need for more work to define the role and value of research in the colleges, expand who is engaged in this process, and develop stronger support mechanisms for emerging research priorities.

The most recent study from 2011 can be found at The 2011 Institutional Research and Planning (IRP) survey highlighted the growing importance of accreditation-related activities for IRP offices. IRP office reported that their top priority activities were (1) program review, (2) accreditation, (3) institutional and/or strategic planning, (4) student learning outcomes, and (5) institution and/or department survey design and/or administration. It is notable that student learning outcomes (SLOs) had not been among the top five priorities in 2009.
Ijay posted on 4/14/2014 12:52 PM
The findings are really thought provoking.My interest is on how the impact of AIR skills and objectives could equally fit into international picture especially in assisting developing world like Africa achieve an acceptable standard settings for utilization of HE research findings.This could also improve our educational standards to the level of acceptability in America and other developed world.This is my interest in AIR and the good work AIR is piloting as a world's leading largest research Forum.
Lisa posted on 4/18/2014 4:08 PM
Findings are very interesting and telling. For instance, "Finance-related issues receive less focus...," I find that very curious. Is it because of lack of access, lack of transparency or fear of what may be found? Financial indicators (DOE/HLC terminology) have gotten a few institutions into accreditation trouble. I wonder why less and not more is being done with financial issues.