Institutional Research in Higher Education
INSTITUTIONAL RESEARCH IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Institutional research is research activity carried out in colleges and universities to collect and analyze data concerning students, faculty, staff, and other educational facilities. The primary purpose of institutional research is to promote institutional effectiveness. It does this by providing information for institutional planning, policy formation, and decision-making within the college or university.
Largely as a result of the significant role institutional research plays in keeping track of the performance of the institution, higher educational institutions have created a special office, called the Office of Institutional Research. This office usually is placed in the higher hierarchy of the administrative units of the institution.
The size of the Office of Institutional Research depends upon the educational programs and services of the institution. The Office of Institutional Research for a larger higher educational institution usually reports to the provost. In a smaller institution, the Office of Institutional Research reports to the vice-president for academic affairs. No matter the size or the organizational structure, all institutional research offices exist to provide information for institutional planning, policy formation and implementation, and decision-making.
The primary role of the Office of Institutional Research in the institutional setup is to collect, analyze, and interpret institutional data on students, faculty, educational programs, and administrative and support services so as to provide accurate information to support planning and decision making activities within the educational institution.
It is the responsibility of the Office of Institutional Research to compile data on course enrollments every semester or quarter. The course enrollment data shows the distribution and major of students enrolled in each department and course. With this knowledge, the institution is in a better position to discontinue a program that is not attracting students. It also allows the administration to allocate more funds to programs that are attractive to students. This helps the institution to utilize its resources for efficient organization and management.
The Office of Institutional Research gathers and maintains data on student retention in terms of gender, race, age, geographic location, and test scores, and shares this information with the student admission office. Student retention is the ability of an educational institution to recruit and retain a student until the student graduates from that institution. A higher retention rate is a reflection of the effectiveness of the programs the institution offers students. Any higher educational institution with a higher retention rate takes delight in displaying this information in a brochure to showcase the effectiveness of their educational programs to prospective students and the general public. Therefore, at the end of every term, the Office of Institutional Research looks into the student population and provides the admissions office data that it needs for its recruitment and retention efforts.
Apart from recruitment and retention records, the Office of Institutional Research keeps track of degrees granted by every department of the institution. In particular, it identifies students who graduate with certificate, associate, bachelor, master, or doctoral degrees. This information is often compiled in terms of discipline or area of study, gender, race, age, or number of years the student studied to complete the program. Information on graduation records is essential because it reflects the number of students who are able to successfully complete their studies in the institution. It also makes the administration aware of educational programs or fields of study that are or are not attracting and maintaining students through graduation.
Of primary importance to the work of the Office of Institutional Research is enrollment management. Often the Office of Institutional Research collaborates with the Student Affairs Office to engage in enrollment and retention management activities to find out how best to retain students in their programs. As a result of such collaborative activities, many colleges and universities have established special programs such as scholarships or grants to attract students who are under-represented in their institutions.
The Office of Institutional Research maintains a plethora of data relating to the financial status of the institution. It shares this information with the Finance Office, which in turn uses this data to conveniently determine and allocate funds for such institutional programs as faculty development, instructional materials, research, work-study students, and faculty and staff salary.
The Office of Institutional Research at the end of every term or year also examines and evaluates the performance of its program faculty. It examines such variables as faculty publications, research, and general contributions to the academic community. Through student evaluations of faculty at the end of every semester or quarter, the Office of Institutional Research is able to document the performance of its program faculty. Students evaluate faculty on such items as grading procedures, knowledge of content, pace of instruction, and respect for student views in the learning process. Assessment of program faculty is done essentially for the purposes of faculty development, retention, recruitment, and promotion.
Institutional research offices produce what is called a "fact book" about the institution. The fact book presents, at a glance, general information and data concerning academic programs, students, degrees conferred, faculty and staff, finances, institutional facilities such as library holdings, and research activities by the institution. The fact book serves as a window to the institution. It provides a summary of the achievements, programs, progress, and facilities of the institution. The Office of Institutional Research takes great pains to prepare it because it gives the public a taste of what awaits students who decide to enroll in that institution.
By the nature of its work, the Office of Institutional Research provides vital data for internal and external surveys and reports. It compiles data for institutional self-study and accreditation by external agencies. Institutional self-study is an attempt that every institution makes to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs and activities. It reveals strengths and weaknesses in the institution. It is done with the aim of making sure the institution is working to accomplish its educational mission. Accreditation is also of significant importance to all colleges and universities because it is an indication that the academic programs of the institution conform to federal or state established standards. Accreditation acts as a benchmark for institutional effectiveness and gives the institution a higher academic ranking.
Institutional research offices also serve as contact points for reports and surveys requested from governmental and nongovernmental agencies such as the United States Department of Education. These agencies may require this data to compile reports on issues such as affirmative action and college guidebooks.
The smooth functioning of educational institutions, like any other organization, depends upon the ability of the institution to identify problems and find appropriate solutions for them. Without this ability, no organization can function effectively. The Office of Institutional Research conducts research into specific problems facing the institution. The research may be focused on such areas as student attrition or retention rate, faculty turnover, or student diversity. It shares the research findings with other departments in the institution. Many of the research activities may be carried out annually or otherwise as needed. The Office of Institutional Research carries out such research with the sole purpose of finding solutions to challenges the institution might encounter in the future. At other times, the research may be conducted with the aim of finding a solution to an existing problem or adding a new program to the curriculum of the institution.
Facilities in educational institutions have the potential effect of attracting students to that institution. Therefore, the Office of Institutional Research compiles data on educational facilities in the institution for organizational purposes. The data on facilities indicates the number of classrooms, teaching laboratories, meeting or conference rooms, offices, libraries, media and technology, space utilization, housing, and vehicles. In addition to compiling the data, the Office of Institutional Research presents an annual report on facility utilization in the institution.
As in all organizations, educational institutions need common guidelines and procedures for implementing policies. The Office of Institutional Research defines common data sets used by the college or university to establish policies for administrative procedures. It is the responsibility of this office to define a part-time student or a part-time faculty member, as well as the concepts of doctoral degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, a commuter, credit hour, contact hour, credit, or grade point average. The common data set is essential to the smooth administration of the institution because it helps the institution to develop rules, regulations, and policies to guide staff, student, and faculty conduct in the service of the institution.
See also: Colleges and Universities, Organizational Structure of; Presidency, College and University.
Delaney, Anne Marie. 1996. "The Role of Institutional Research in Higher Education: Enabling Researchers to Meet New Challenges." Paper presented at the 36th annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Albuquerque, NM, May 5–8, 1996. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 397752.
Hanson, Gary R., and Denzine, Gypsy M. 2000. "Student Affairs Research: The Work We Do." In Collaboration Between Student Affairs and Institutional Researchers to Improve Institutional Effectiveness, ed. James W. Pickering. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Harrington, Charles F., and Chen, Hong Yu. 1995. "The Characteristics, Roles, and Functions of Institutional Research Professionals in the Southern Association for Institutional Research." Paper presented at the 35th annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Boston, May 28–31, 1995. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 386136.
Harrington, Charles; Knight, William; and Christie, Ray. 1994. "An Examination of the Institutional Research Functions and Structures in Georgia Higher Education." Paper presented at the 34th annual forum of the Association for Institutional Research, May 29–June 1, 1994. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 372722.
Middaugh, Michael f.; Trusheim, Dale W.; and Bauer, Karen W. 1994. Strategies for the Practice of Institutional Research: Concepts, Resources, and Applications. Tallahassee, FL: Association for Institutional Research.
Owens, Robert G. 2001. Organizational Behavior in Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Saupe, Joe L. 1990. The Functions of Institutional Research, 2nd edition. Tallahassee, FL: Association for Institutional Research.
Seybert, Jeffery A. 1991. "The Role of Institutional Research in College Management." School Organization 11 (2):231–239.
Volkwein, J. Fredericks. 1999. "The Four Faces of Institutional Research." In What Is Institutional Research All About: A Critical and Comprehensive Assessment of the Profession, ed. J. Fredericks Volkwein. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Zikopoulos, Marianthi, and Hourigan, Christopher. 2001. The Role of Institutional Research Office in the Institutional Accreditation Self-Study Process. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 453286.
Kwabena Dei Ofori-Attah
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