e-AIR Newsletter July 2018

Institutional Research and Higher Education Data Policy

Analyzing a ReportBy Gina Johnson, AIR Assistant Executive Director for Partnerships & Membership

Before I entered the field of institutional research, I spent time as a data analyst on the policy team at the Midwestern Higher Education Compact. There I was exposed to the importance of access to quality, comparative higher education data to help state policymakers make informed decisions. It was also there that I was introduced to the concept of institutional research and its professional association, AIR. Once I completed my Ph.D. and joined an IR team, I spent my energies honing my knowledge of and skills in the field and let my policy knowledge falter. I made an unfair distinction between “policy folks” and “data folks.” I now know better.

AIR understands the value of multiple perspectives in creating meaningful and effective higher education data policy. Some individuals know policy well and some know data and information well. This collective knowledge allows us to advocate for strong policies that improve both. MORE
Those Ubiquitous Unit Records
Michelle Appel
AIR President
Michelle Appel  
Unit Record Data. This three-word phrase sets IR professionals’ hearts racing - some out of fear and some from excitement. For years, higher education has struggled over who should have access to which bits of unit record data, if any.

For over a decade, the federal government has been prohibited from creating a unit record system. And for at least as long, mini-unit record systems have propagated throughout states and organizations. With more and more of these systems springing up and with increasing federal momentum to overturn that ban, last August the Board’s IR Future committee identified the ubiquity of unit record sets as one of four themes to explore.

The volume and complexity of unit record data available to IR professionals may depend on where our offices sit in our institutions. Some offices bear the sole responsibility for cleaning and freezing their own census data while others must go through IT offices for everything, including accessing and aggregating it. Some offices can view student records in a Student Information System while others are prohibited from doing so. Some of us have very limited sets of data while some of us have large data warehouses.

This diversity of experiences with our own institutions’ data reflects the diversity of institutions in the United States and abroad. And this diversity may lead us to differing viewpoints on the external collection and use of unit record data.

Clearly, all of us want to promote the use of data so that our students, our institutions, and our stakeholders are well served. But, as is often the case, we don’t all agree on how best to do that. At institutions, data governance, data security, and data ethics have become key issues for consideration when exploring who gets to use unit record data and how they may use it. Some of us have seen new restrictions on data, such as those data generated by Financial Aid systems. At the federal level, the College Transparency Act could open the door for a new federal unit record system.

So, where does this leave us as a profession and an Association? The Association and the Board have no stated position on the legislative policies around the collection and use of unit record data.
Paths Through Mathematics and Science
The need to examine student mathematics and science course taking is increasing as the focus on student success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has grown. MORE
Keeping the AIR Community Informed
Announcing the launch of the Evergreen National Education Prize, a new $125K prize for college and vocational success among low-income youth…MORE
IR Projects: Sources & Uses of Qualitative Data
Felice Headshot  
Dear Felice: I have been asked to conduct a qualitative study regarding student perceptions of our campus services. I am familiar with 1 to 1 interviews as well as focus groups, but are there other ways to capture qualitative perceptions, experiences, and stories?

When asked to conduct a qualitative project, or to add a qualitative component to a quantitative investigation, many institutional researchers consider interviews or focus group sessions as their best – and perhaps their only – options for capturing qualitative data from campus stakeholders. While these strategies are valuable in many ways, there are many other options, although some of them may be less well known or understood.

Qualitative research is defined as a "situated activity that locates the observer in the world and…consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible." MORE

This month’s question is answered by Felice Billups, Professor, Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, Johnson & Wales University.

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Charles F Elton Best Paper Award

Charles F Elton Best Paper Award

Charles F Elton Best Paper Award

Data Bite
In this month's Data Bite, we explore the upcoming NSIRO survey. On June 21, 2018, over 350 people attended the AIR webinar, Using the National Survey of IR Offices Data to Inform Decision Making, with instructor Darlena Jones, AIR Director of Assessment and Research. Participants learned about findings from the 2015 data collection, including the average IR Office staff size and the work produced by the IR Office. Participants also discovered how some institutions have used these data to leverage change within their IR Office. Additionally, Darlena discussed plans for the fall 2018 National Survey... MORE

NSIRO Webinar Thumbnail  

AOs Provide Support in Changing IR Landscape
Eric Atchison is Director of System Analysis, Research & Enrollment Management, Mississippi Public Universities and is Past-President for the Mississippi Association for Institutional Research

eAIR: Can you briefly discuss your role as a state Affiliated Organization (AO) leader?

I’ve been an active member of the Mississippi Association for Institutional Research (MAIR) since 2009. I’ve served as a Member-at-Large for the four-year sector and as the volunteer Webmaster. I was elected Vice President in 2016, transitioned to President in 2017, and am now serving my last year in this three-year term as Past President of the Association.

eAIR: Can you talk about some of the recent, important work you have done with the Mississippi Association for Institutional Research (MAIR)?

Our group has historically had around 50 active members in any given year, but we’ve seen membership expand in various ways over the past several years. As the institutional research function expands and diversifies across institutions, we have had faculty and staff from other areas participate. Graduate student interest has also increased as programs incorporate IR into the curriculum. As institutional budgets and priorities shift, we have realized a single fee structure may not fit all members’ needs. Since our annual meeting is a multi-day event, a member may only be able drive in and attend one day or only participate in workshops. MORE
First-Time Freshman Cohort Dashboard
By Erika Hill, Sr. Research Analyst, University of Utah

This visual display allows for a quick comparison of common first-time metrics between those in a group (Housing, Honors, etc.) and those outside of it. The mix of tables and graphs allows the user to quickly assess similarities and differences between the groups, and additional worksheets contain visualizations showing trends over time and student progression. Using Tableau has allowed us to create a basic template to compare 2-3 groups with parameter drop-downs for within-group comparisons. MORE


It’s Element-ary: Perfecting Student Tracker Data Elements
By Eugenio Hernandez, Research Analyst, Institutional Research, Pensacola State College & Michael A. Johnston, Director, Institutional Research, Pensacola State College

RS Icon Relying on the validity of student’s academic information is made easy thanks to the National Student Clearinghouse®. More than 3,600 colleges and universities[1] share and convey students’ academic advancements, allowing participating institutions to provide better service. These institutions are most likely to use the StudentTracker® system to utilize the multiple services including enrollment and graduation status data. Therefore, this article will focus on how to achieve a flawless transmission, giving special attention to the “Date of Birth” and “Requester Return Field” data elements. MORE
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