Special Features

  • Featured
  • 11.18.20

Future Forward: AIR’s Commitment to Advance and Support Our Community

  • by Christine M. Keller, AIR Executive Director & CEO

In these times of uncertainty, disruption, and financial constraints, AIR and the AIR community are called to be forward-looking and responsive—open to new ideas while remaining attentive to our core purpose and values. This issue of eAIR offers a variety of insights and perspectives on the future of the profession and our work.

Although current events—the coronavirus pandemic, broader recognition of racial injustices, and acrimonious politics—have upended and reconfigured our professional and personal lives in significant ways, they have also underscored the importance of data in decision-making and the values of our profession.

The Board of Directors has outlined an ambitious agenda for AIR’s future through our mission, vision, and ethics principles. In short, AIR’s purpose is to empower higher professionals to use data and analytics for better decisions that benefit students and institutions. Using data and analytics with integrity and in ways that are ethical and equitable—as well as effective.

The AIR staff and I, in partnership with the Board, remain committed to supporting and empowering each of you and our broader community through these tough times and serving as good stewards of our association and its resources. Your voice and input are essential elements in the success of these efforts. That is why I am grateful to the more than 1,100 individuals who took the time to respond to the AIR stakeholder survey earlier this fall. Your feedback helps us gain a better understanding of current needs and challenges, evaluate how AIR is serving those needs, and learn how we can better support and advance the profession into the future.

Here are some of my key takeaways from your responses:

AIR products, services, and membership value

  • Three quarters of respondents found high value in AIR’s programs, resources, and services, and nearly 90% would recommend AIR to a colleague. This is good news, and we will continue to build on this foundation of quality and trust.
  • Some of the most highly rated and highly visible AIR products and services include the in-person AIR Forum, IPEDS education and training, the Statement of Ethical Principles, and the eAIR newsletter.
  • We need to build greater awareness among our stakeholders for our newer offerings, such as the AIR Hub online community, AIR Forum Virtual, and our partnership work with other organizations like EDUCAUSE, NACUBO, and APLU.
  • The top reasons for choosing to be an AIR member are to stay current with the field, be part of your professional association, access useful resources, and access quality professional education and training.
  • We need to place more attention on communicating and enhancing the value and benefits of AIR membership throughout the year. The most common reason for letting AIR membership lapse is not attending the AIR Forum.

Current challenges & future trends

  • The most frequent challenge mentioned by survey respondents was managing workload and increased demands.
  • Respondents also cited facing one or more of the following three challenges—communicating the value of IR/IE, establishing data governance, and the impact of budgets and resources.
  • The top 5 trends on the minds of IR/IE professionals are funding cuts to higher education, declining enrollment, new technology replacing staff, remote learning, and predictive analysis.
  • The skills and abilities identified as important for career advancement were data visualization, communication/effective presentations, data analytics, office management/leadership, software/tools, and strategic planning.

And how can AIR better support you in facing both these current challenges and preparing for the future? Six themes emerged from the responses.

  • Education and training focused on skills such as communication, working remotely, and leadership as well as statistics and other technical skills.
  • Educational offerings at different levels of mastery.
  • Increased advocacy for the future of IR/IE.
  • Development of career pathways for the profession.
  • Partnerships with other organizations to increase the visibility of IR/IE and to facilitate cross-functional collaboration
  • Opportunities for networking and the formation of peer groups.

These take-aways only skim the surface of a rich set of data that we will continue to mine for additional insights and perspectives to plan activities, create programming, and consider new initiatives and partnerships.

I was pleased to discover alignment in the survey responses and our internal planning for 2021. While remaining attentive and adaptable based on changing circumstances, the following goals are priorities for AIR staff over the next 12–18 months as we work to meet the association’s mission and objectives.

  • Create and deliver relevant and timely programming, products, and services to meet the professional education needs of stakeholders.
  • Expand opportunities for the AIR community to connect, share, and learn virtually.
  • Strengthen our collective voice by increasing the number of AIR members, including targeted outreach beyond IR/IE to welcome other higher education professionals interested in data-informed decision making. 
  • Strengthen partnerships with other associations, foundations, and organizations to advance the effective, ethical, and equitable use of data and analytics and the standing of our profession.
  • Enhance your experience as stakeholders by continuing to upgrade AIR’s technical infrastructure and business processes, and by expanding our external communication and outreach.

Through these goals and priorities, we plan to position our community to not only face future challenges and opportunities, but also shape the future of IR/IE and higher education.

These are uncertain and difficult times. It is also an opportunity for our profession to step up and to shine. Never has the need for data and analysis to guide decision making been more critical. Your leadership, knowledge, and abilities are essential in helping your institution navigate the uncertainty successfully through to the other side.

And AIR is here to support you amidst these increased demands and responsibilities. To provide quality education and training, access to resources, connections with peers, and to advocate on behalf of you and our profession. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your comments, challenges, or ideas for how AIR can better meet your professional needs and goals.

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