• Board Corner
  • 06.19.19

AIR Membership has its Privileges

  • by Martin B. Fortner, AIR President

Since inception, the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) has demonstrated a strong commitment to creating and sustaining vigorous data informed decision cultures within postsecondary education. Remarkably, this commitment originated from a small group of volunteer institutional research (IR) practitioners with a common vision to establish a membership association designed to advance professional relevancy through information support, career development, and scholarship.

Current State   

The association’s growth we enjoy today evolved from this visionary concept of leveraging membership intellectual capital to achieve relevancy for the IR profession within higher education. In particular, AIR has grown into a multi-million dollar enterprise with more than 25 paid staff and hundreds of volunteer member practitioners.

Our professional outreach includes relationships with various affiliated state, regional, and international IR associations. Further, the association has expanded its scope of collaborative knowledge sharing partnerships with such entities as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), various higher education special interest groups, and the Gates and Lumina foundations.

The Future 

Recognizing organizational value, how do we sustain future relevancy in a higher education environment characteristic of continual change and uncertainty? The current state of higher education is vastly different and far more complex than the environment as encountered by our founding counterparts. With increased demands for student equity in social mobility coupled with accountability, IR practitioners are assuming pivotal roles in such mission critical areas related to:

  • Enrollment management
  • Academic assessment
  • Performance evaluation metrics
  • Predictive analytic technologies
  • Student matriculation success
  • Data reporting and accreditation

For areas identified, advancements in technology have created “real time” data access opportunities for postsecondary education stakeholders requiring immediate data for institutional mission attainment. Although desirable, such advancement may pose complex ethical data integrity challenges for IR professionals

Managing Uncertainty

Nevertheless, our association’s current framework for sustaining envisioned relevance is prudent and well positioned to address changing information needs in higher education. This framework focuses on three guiding principles for strategic leadership as suggested by John Carver, the creator of the Policy Governance model for boards and commissions: Member Focus, Vision, and Collaboration

Member Focus

Central to the AIR Board of Directors is continued adherence to the Carver Policy Governance model. The policy governance paradigm ensures that the “voice” of our membership is the cornerstone to the association’s existence. The following passage extracted from our Ends policy amplifies the notion of membership legitimacy:

AIR exists to empower those individuals at all levels to utilize data, analytics, information and evidence to make decisions and take actions that benefit students and institutions and improve higher education”

I believe the essence of this Ends policy captures the forward thinking vision held by founding practitioners to create a membership association designed to advance professional relevancy through information support, career development, and scholarship.

Since the inception of policy governance, AIR leadership has initiated listening sessions, surveys, informal conversations, and created task force efforts to ascertain membership insights on leveraging our intellectual capital for continued IR relevancy within higher education. Such efforts have yielded creation of the Board standing committee on the future of IR, a new vision and mission statement for strategic planning, and an updated Statement of Ethical Principles.


Through membership engagement and partnership collaborations, AIR leadership discovered that the value of our work has produced windfall opportunities for non-IR practitioners who seek IR professional development or scholarship opportunities in the practice of data-informed decision making. This positive condition prompted leadership to consider reassessments of both the association’s vision and mission statements for inclusion of new market opportunities.

This reassessment produced an aspirational vision statement that seeks AIR designation as a global leader in the ethical use of data for better decisions. In particular, our new mission statement reads,

AIR is a global association that empowers higher education professionals at all levels to utilize data, analytics, information, and evidence to make decisions and take action that benefit students and institutions and improve higher education”

Inherent in our revised mission is collaboration and member connection.

Collaboration & Connection

A question raised earlier was, how does the association sustain future relevancy in a higher education environment characteristic of change and uncertainty? Presented discourse suggests that our association has a process for ensuring profession relevancy well into the future. Paramount to this process is the association’s continued adherence to the “voice” of the membership, as this drives the future direction of the association.

Over the years, our membership has demonstrated a strong sense of peer collaboration and connection within the association. Evidence of the preceding is witnessed by the increasing number of individuals who attend the AIR Forum, AIR’s annual conference, regional IPEDS workshops, Board listening sessions, and other opportunities provided by the association. Just think, an average of 2,000 higher education professionals attend the Forum to seek collaborative opportunities for learning, sharing, and celebrating others; but most of all, for connecting.

AIR leadership believes this spirit of collaboration and connection as demonstrated by our membership will continue. Such collaboration and connection ensures continued viability of the association for years to come. Borrowing from an American Express Membership adage, “AIR membership has its privileges.”