2018 AIR National Survey of IR Offices: Topic Briefs

IR Office Reporting Relationships

This brief is one of a series of reports. Learn more at airweb.org/nationalsurvey.

An institution’s organizational structure identifies official reporting relationships and ideally indicates the ways information moves through the institution. Knowledge of the institutional research (IR) office’s position within the hierarchy can shed light on the role it plays in achievement of the institution’s mission, the influence and role of the IR office leader in relation to senior institutional executives, and the portfolio of work within the leader’s purview. The 2018 AIR National Survey of IR Offices sought to explore these relationships to help illuminate our understanding of the work of IR.

Current Reporting Relationships

In the 2018 National Survey, we asked office leaders to identify their current reporting lines. Of the 543 institutions that answered this question, the majority of IR office leaders (437) report to one of three units. Specifically, 54% report to the provost/chief academic officer (CAO), 19% report to the president/chief executive officer (CEO), and 7% report to an independent IR/institutional effectiveness (IE)/planning unit.

However, there is a significant difference in reporting relationships with these three offices by major institutional sector:1 public 4-year, public 2-year, and private not-for-profit 4-year (Chart 1). More than half of IR offices in public 4-year institutions and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions report to the provost while less than one-third of IR offices at public 2-year institutions report to that office. More than one-third of IR offices at public 2-year institutions report to the president compared to 10% and 16% at public 4-year and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, respectively.

Chart 1. Most Common IR Office Reporting Relationships by Institutional Sector

The remaining 106 IR offices represented in these data report to other units, such as finance, information technology (IT), and enrollment management (Table 1).

Table 1. Current IR Office Reporting Relationship by Institutional Sector
Reporting Relationship
(n = 543)
(n = 164)
(n = 125)
Private NFP
(n = 254)
Provost/Chief Academic Officer54%68%30%58%
President/Chief Executive Officer19%10%37%16%
Independent IR/IE/Planning Unit7%5%11%7%
Finance, Operations, Business5%6%4%4%
Information Technology/IT4%4%6%3%
Enrollment Management, Admissions3%2%0%5%
Administration Services2%;2%3%2%

Ideal Reporting Relationships

Reporting lines do not always match IR office leaders’ preferences. We found that 38% of IR office leaders do not report to positions or divisions they deem ideal.

Of the institutions represented in the survey, 91% of IR office leaders indicated that the ideal would be to report to the president, provost, or independent IR/IE/planning unit. Upon further examination, we found that although more than half of IR offices currently report to the provost, fewer consider that ideal (Table 2).

This pattern holds true when the data are disaggregated by institutional sector. Regardless of sector, more IR office leaders say they would ideally report to the institution’s president and fewer prefer to report to the provost.

Table 2. Current vs. Ideal IR Reporting Relationship by Sector
Reporting RelationshipAggregatePublic 4-yearPublic 2-yearPrivate NFP 4-year
Provost/Chief Academic Officer54%38%68%50%30%19%58%39%
President/Chief Executive Officer19%39%10%29%37%57%16%37%
Independent IR/IE/Planning Unit7%14%5%13%11%17%7%13%

Longitudinal Changes in Reporting Relationships

Reporting relationships often shift over time, especially when an institution undergoes significant change (e.g., new leadership, new strategic plan) or implements a new reporting structure to improve operational efficiency.

We compared reporting relationships among the 376 institutions that responded to the 2015 and 2018 National Surveys. Overall, fewer IR offices report to the provost or an independent IR/IE/planning unit in 2018 compared to 2015, whereas more IR offices report to the president in 2018 (Chart 2).

Chart 2. Changes to the Most Common IR Reporting Relationships

Changes within major institutional sectors tell a different story. Public 4-year and private not-for-profit 4-year institutions had a 4% net decrease of IR offices reporting to one of the three most common reporting lines. Those IR offices are now reporting to units like finance/operations/business and enrollment management/admissions compared to 2015. Public 2-year institutions saw a 6% net increase in IR offices reporting to one of the top three.

Even though more IR office leaders at public 2-year institutions report to the president, provost, or independent IR/IE/planning unit than in 2015, there was a 5% net increase in the percentage of IR offices that report to IT (Table 3).

Table 3. Changes to IR Reporting Relationships by Institutional Sector
Reporting RelationshipAll
Private NFP
Provost / Chief Academic officer56%53%72%69%25%28%63%55%
President / Chief Executive officer16%20%10%11%26%34%16%19%
Independent IR/IE/Planning division9%7%5%3%20%15%5%6%
Finance, Operations, Business5%5%5%7%10%4%3%4%
Information Technology / IT3%4%4%3%2%7%3%3%
Enrollment Management, Admissions2%3%0%2%0%0%5%6%
Administration Services1%2%1%2%1%3%2%2%


The 2018 AIR National Survey of IR Offices attempted to survey IR office leaders at more than 3,000 postsecondary degree-granting institutions. Institutions of all sectors, types of control, and sizes were included in the sample. In total, responses represented 1,167 institutions, and 566 of those institutions completed the survey in full. To ensure comparable results, incomplete responses are excluded from this report. In addition, responses from for-profit institutions, administrative units, international institutions, private not-for-profit 2-year institutions, and institutions in U.S. territories are excluded due to low response rates.

This Report

The findings presented in this report are based on 543 responses that represent U.S. postsecondary, degree-granting institutions at public 4-year, public 2-year, or private not-for-profit 4-year institutions.

  1. See methodology section at end of this report for more information.