The Role of Institutional Research in Higher Education

A report by Sarah Osgood

Patricia Lindell Scholarship 1998

This report was prepared by Sarah Osgood, winner of the competitive Patricia Lindell Scholarship, awarded annually through the generosity of the Gustavus Library Associates. Sarah's task was to study the need for institutional research on the Gustavus campus and to locate some potentially useful research resources. Shortly after she completed her report, institutional research responsibilities were formally assigned to a position in the college administration. --Barbara Fister

Analysis of the Current Situation

Web Sites

Books and Periodicals


An Analysis of the Current Situation at Gustavus

Institutional research is a necessary component of colleges and universities. It is used to learn about the success of students and departments, trace alumni, recruit new students, hire new faculty, and much more. In higher education, each department uses institutional data for many functions. Through the research that I have conducted for the Patricia Lindell Scholarship this year, I have learned about the role of institutional data at Gustavus and many other institutions of higher education as well as what Gustavus could do differently in the future to improve its methods of institutional research. Some of my methods of research have included interviews, searching web sites and useful books, learning about other institutions’ data collecting processes, and understanding the role and job description of an institutional researcher by looking at position announcements in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The goal of this project was to learn about how Gustavus collects and uses institutional research, what other institutions are doing to keep updated, the role of an institutional researcher and how they could assist in the collection of data, and finally, resources that may assist faculty as they try to collect data. It is hoped that this information will help Gustavus stay competitive, efficient, and up to date in the higher education industry.

Gustavus does not have a designated director of institutional research. Therefore each department keeps its own records and in a few cases, collaborates with other departments. In my interviews, faculty told me that they use institutional research for things such as raising money, comparing salary schedules, seeking restricted funds for specific projects, and learning about alumni. Gustavus staff use many different sources in order to collect data. Some of these sources include HEDS (Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium), alumni and archives, annual reports, the Gustavus senior survey, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In many cases, departments are moving away from paper and converting to electronic resources. In the near future, Gustavus plans to have one database with general data and statistics concerning the campus that many departments will be able to use.

Staff at Gustavus have found ways to collect their needed data but because they generally don’t share results, a lot of time is spent conducting overlapping research. Also, data is often incomplete or estimated. If a department does not keep track of its graduates, the success of the department is never known. Knowing how many people earned scholarships or invitations to conferences can help promote Gustavus. This would also be useful when a grant in that area of study is sought out. The more research that is done about Gustavus, the more clearly and accurately we will be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of this college. It is easier to improve the school when there are known problems or areas that need change. Because the institutional research done here at Gustavus is done to meet the basic needs of the faculty, it seems probable that the addition of an institutional researcher could make data more efficient, increase structure, and create less overlap.

Generally, the data that Gustavus finds is compared with 19 different schools. These include 13 national institutions that are rated slightly above Gustavus and 6 Lutheran colleges. Some faculty prefer to compare Gustavus with the other Minnesota private colleges, HEDS, or with the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). There is also a group called the Associated Colleges of the Midwest of which Gustavus is not a member. In addition to the other comparison groups, joining this organization could also benefit Gustavus in the future.

As a result of the lack of and inefficient collection of data, the 1994 Gustavus Adolphus College Strategic Plan proposed that they "establish a professionally staffed Office of Institutional Research". This office was considered a critical need at Gustavus according to the North Central Association visiting team. The Strategic Plan 1994 states, "the office would assist the College in its assessment and evaluation efforts and support ongoing strategic planning. It could provide and track comparative data, engage in research vital for informed decision-making, conduct surveys of students, alumni/ae and other constituencies, support the institutional advancement efforts of the College, complete the myriad data forms requested by government agencies, analyze and disseminate institutional data as needed." Due to the lack of funds, Gustavus has yet to create an office for institutional research or hire someone to provide leadership in that area. Some of the faculty that I interviewed stated that Gustavus needs more up-to-date records, directories, and books regarding the structure and organization of higher education institutions as well as a way to better track graduated students. They would also like to know specific academic data from departments, salary information of graduates, and more detailed information on liberal arts graduates in general. In addition, many would like to be able to look at trends over time of various things.

It is easy to see that an institutional researcher would be very beneficial to Gustavus. Although it is a costly investment for a small private college, there are other Minnesota private colleges that do have some type of professional who is responsible for institutional research. For example, St. Olaf has an Office of Educational and Institutional Research ( Concordia is in the process of hiring a Director of Assessment and Institutional Research ( assessposit.html). Augsburg has a staff person in charge of institutional advancement and another that does institutional research and program development. Macalester has a great website from their Department of Institutional Research ( Included on this site is their mission and goal statement as well as surveys and evaluations from students. This evidence shows that the institutional research position is the new trend to maintain an effective and successful institution.

Colleges and Universities that are looking to hire someone to help with institutional research can approach this in a few different ways. For example, in Missouri there is a research agenda for higher education that has a director who is in charge of longitudinal studies, institutionally-based data collections, and statewide surveys of alumni and currently enrolled students. Other schools have a personal research director instead of a state researcher. These type or researchers are involved in coordinating research, assessment, and the evaluation of activities. They may also do telephone polling and design surveys and questionnaires. Many support the campus’s strategic planning process, analyze the recruitment and marketing efforts, and develop peer comparisons.

Gustavus is a wonderful school and in many ways, ahead of the crowd. Having a skilled institutional researcher to put Gustavus’s quality into statistical terms would only make it a more marketable and efficient college. There is definitely a need. The question is: Can we afford it and how?

sources that gustavus faculty/staff currently use

Accreditation reports
Alumni and archives
Annual reports
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Class enrollment data from the registrar
Communicating with alumni
Company Profiles
Data book from the registrar’s office
Dialog searches-used for prospect research (information about foundations or companies)
The Gustavus Adolphus College Strategic Plan
Gustavus Fact Book compiled by Owen Sammelson
Gustavus senior survey
HEDS-Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium - compare with other schools: enrollment; retention, financial aid, income...
Michigan State national employment trends (survey)
National Association of College and University Business Offices (NACUBO)
National Association of Colleges and Employers (survey)
American Library Association
NSF Grad Fellowship web site
Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Study
Specific books and CD-ROMs bought by individual departments
Survey students at graduation and 6 months after graduation
UCLA study - CIRP-freshman survey
 gustavus employees interviewed

Web Resources for Institutional Research


IBM Higher Education
This is a list of higher education links to such topics as curriculum resources, associations and conferences, technical sites, software on the net, and net information related to higher education.

 NACUBO Resource Directory
This is a list of higher education associations that have web sites. This resource directory has 60-70 sites. Some of them include CASE, CGS, ACE, AAHE, and SCUP (see these sites below).

 Associations and Programs
American Association for Higher Education (AAHE)
AAHE promotes changes in higher education to ensure effectiveness through conferences and publications. This web site explains membership and the many ways they try to improve the quality of higher education such as through technology.

 American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers
"Setting the standard for admissions, records, and enrollment services in higher education." This association works to promote enrollment management, information technology, instructional management, and student services. See this site for information regarding membership, meetings, and events.

 American Council on Education (ACE)
"A Voice for Higher and Adult Education"
This site includes activities and a programs office in addition to a membership directory. Also available are products and services (for example: a status report on minorities in higher education) and a discussion of special topics regarding the new trends of higher education such as college costs.

See also the reference book called American Universities and Colleges (American Council on Education) which describes the evolution and structure of higher education in the United States, professional education, and institutional exhibits of universities and colleges.

 Association for Institutional Research (AIR)
This organization is dedicated to professional growth of all who participate in decision making related to higher education via management research, policy analysis, and planning. Found on this site is information about grants funded and a calendar of events.

 Association of College Unions International
See this site for information about how to serve the college union and student activities profession. Membership information is provided.

 Association of University Administrators (AUA)
This British association helps inform the public about current issues and provides opportunities for professional development. Networking opportunities through conferences, regional activities, and electronically are possible.

 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)
This is an international association whose goal is to enhance institutions by bringing in support in the form of money, alumni loyalty, public esteem, or new students.

 Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)
CGS is the largest national association organized specifically to represent the interest of graduate education. This site contains research such as graduate and enrollment degrees. It also links to statistics about who is getting what degrees, financial aid and scholarships, and legislative information.

 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP)
This society tries to promote the advancement and application of effective planning in higher education. Included on this web page is the annual report, information about board members, and journals. There are also links to research, associations, and online books and periodicals.

 Other sources of information regarding higher education

 Chronicle of Higher Education
This site includes today’s news, personal and professional issues, as well as research and publishing information.

Chronicle of Philanthropy
This site offers news on grants and trends in philanthropy as well as a sophisticated database of grants, searchable by a number of variables.

 ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education
ERIC provides education-related literature such as databases, publications, journals, and other documents in full text. One example of a report is: Funds for improvement of post-secondary education.

 U.S. Department of Education
Read about educational headlines, news and events, research and statistics from various national institutes, and programs and services.

"The mission of EDUCAUSE is to help shape and enable transformational change in higher education through the introduction, use, and management of information resources and technologies in teaching, learning, scholarship, research, and institutional management." Formed from a union of Educom and Cause.

 American Association of University Professors
The home page of an organization that "defends academic freedom and tenure, advocates collegial governance, and develops policies ensuring due process." Includes policy statements and articles from Academe as well as reports on topics such as faculty salaries and post-tenure review.

 Diversity Web
A site that offers information on diversity efforts on campus.

Recent Books on Higher Education

Educational Policy

Location: LB2341.5 .J63 1993
Author: Johnson Foundation, Incorporated. Wingspread Group on
Higher Education.
Title: An American imperative : higher expectations for higher
education / report of the Wingspread Group on Higher
Publisher: Racine, Wis. : the Foundation, c1993.

Location: LB2342 .C56 1996
Author: Clotfelter, Charles T.
Title: Buying the best : cost escalation in elite higher
education / Charles T. Clotfelter.
Publisher: Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c1996.

Education Polemics

Location: LA228 .O37 1998
Author: O'Brien, Dennis, 1931-
Title: All the essential half-truths about higher education
/ George Dennis O'Brien.
Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1998.
Location: LA227.4 .J33 1994
Author: Jacoby, Russell.
Title: Dogmatic wisdom : how the culture wars divert education
and distract America / Russell Jacoby.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, c1994.
Location: LA227.4 .H544 1995
Title: Higher education under fire : politics, economics, and
the crisis of the humanities / edited by Michael
Bérubé, Cary Nelson.
Publisher: New York : Routledge, 1995.
Location: LA227.4 .G48 1992
Author: Getman, Julius G.
Title: In the company of scholars : the struggle for the soul
of higher education / Julius Getman.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: Austin : University of Texas Press, 1992.
Location: LA227.4 .D77 1991
Author: D'Souza, Dinesh, 1961-
Title: Illiberal education : the politics of race and sex on
campus / Dinesh D'Souza.
Publisher: New York : Free Press ; Toronto : Collier Macmillan
Canada ; New York : Maxwell Macmillan International,
Location: LA226 .S627 1991
Author: Smith, Page.
Title: Killing the spirit : higher education in America / Page
Publisher: New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1991.
Location: LB1778.2 .A53 1992
Author: Anderson, Martin, 1936-
Title: Impostors in the temple / Martin Anderson.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1992.
Location: LA227.3 .L48 1991
Title: The liberal arts in a time of crisis / edited by Barbara
Ann Scott ; with the assistance of Richard P. Sloan.
Publisher: New York : Praeger, c1991.

Location: E169.1 .L5372 1996
Author: Levine, Lawrence W.
Title: The opening of the American mind : canons, culture,
and history / Lawrence W. Levine.
Publisher: Boston : Beacon Press, c1996.

Location: BD175.5.P65 P3 1995
Title: PC wars : politics and theory in the academy / edited
by Jeffrey Williams.
Publisher: New York : Routledge, 1995.

Location: LC89 .B745 1992
Author: Bromwich, David, 1951-
Title: Politics by other means : higher education and group
thinking / David Bromwich.
Publisher: New Haven : Yale University Press, c1992.
Location: LC191.4 .T43 1994
Title: Teaching the conflicts : Gerald Graff, curricular reform,
and the culture wars / edited by William E. Cain.
Publisher: New York : Garland Pub., c1994.

Higher Education and Society

Location: LB1778.2 .S38 1993
Author: Schwehn, Mark R., 1945-
Title: Exiles from Eden : religion and the academic vocation
in America / Mark R. Schwehn.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, c1993.

Location: LC383 .S56 1994
Author: Sloan, Douglas.
Title: Faith and knowledge : mainline Protestantism and American
higher education / Douglas Sloan.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: Louisville, Ky. : Westminster John Knox Press, c1994.


Location: LA227.4 .L45 1996
Author: Lempert, David H.
Title: Escape from the ivory tower : student adventures in
democratic experiential education / David H. Lempert,
in association with Xavier N. de Souza Briggs, and
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1996.

Location: LB2361.5 .L52 1991
Title: Liberal learning and the arts and sciences major : project
on liberal learning, study-in-depth, and the arts
and sciences major / Association of American Colleges.
Publisher: Washington, D.C. : Association of American Colleges,
1991 [c1990].

Location: LB1715 .S24 1993
Author: Sarason, Seymour Bernard, 1919-
Title: The case for change : rethinking the preparation of
educators / Seymour B. Sarason.
Publisher: San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Location: LB2331 .C4543 1994
Title: Changing college classrooms : new teaching and learning
strategies for an increasingly complex world / Diane
F. Halpern and associates ; foreword by Lee R.
Kerschner and Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1994.

Location: LB1060 .B4 1992
Author: Baxter Magolda, Marcia B., 1951-
Title: Knowing and reasoning in college : gender-related patterns
in students' intellectual development / Marcia B.
Baxter Magolda.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1992.

Location: PE1404 .B35 1996
Author: Bean, John C.
Title: Engaging ideas : the professor's guide to integrating
writing, critical thinking, and active learning in
the classroom / John C. Bean ; foreword by Maryellen
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1996.

Location: LB2331 .D37 1993
Author: Davis, Barbara Gross.
Title: Tools for teaching / Barbara Gross Davis.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.


Location: LB2822.75 .E78 1991
Author: Erwin, T. Dary, 1950-
Title: Assessing student learning and development : a guide
to the principles, goals, and methods of determining
college outcomes / T. Dary Erwin ; foreword by Peter
T. Ewell.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1991.

Location: LB2366.2 .A88 1996
Title: Assessment in practice : putting principles to work
on college campuses / Trudy W. Banta ... [et al.].
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1996.
Location: LB2331 .C766 1996
Author: Cross, K. Patricia (Kathryn Patricia), 1926-
Title: Classroom research : implementing the scholarship of
teaching / K. Patricia Cross, Mimi Harris Steadman.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1996.

Location: LB2366.2 .J33 1992
Author: Jacobs, Lucy Cheser.
Title: Developing and using tests effectively : a guide for
faculty / Lucy Cheser Jacobs, Clinton I. Chase.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992.


Location: LC1099.3 .B49 1993
Title: Beyond a dream deferred : multicultural education and
the politics of excellence / editors, Becky W. Thompson
and Sangeeta Tyagi ;forewordby Derrick Bell.
Publisher: Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c1993.
Location: LC1099.3 .T68 1995
Title: Toward the multicultural university / edited by Benjamin
P. Bowser, Terry Jones, and Gale S. Auletta ; foreword
by Charles V. Willie.
Publisher: Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 1995.
Location: HT1521 .C66 1994
Title: Confronting racism and sexism / Elisabeth Hayes, Scipio
A. J. Colin III, editors.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1994.

History of Higher Education

Location: LC89 .C565 1997
Title: The Cold War & the university : toward an intellectual
history of the postwar years / Noam Chomsky ... [et
Publisher: New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton &
Co., c1997.

Location: E169.12 .W49 1991
Author: Wiener, Jon.
Title: Professors, politics, and pop / Jon Wiener.
Publisher: London ; New York : Verso, 1991.


Location: REFERENCE LC1756 .T68 1991
Author: Touchton, Judith G.
Title: Fact book on women in higher education / compiled by
Judith G. Touchton and Lynne Davis ; with the
assistance of Vivian Parker Makosky.
Publisher: New York : American Council on Education : Macmillan
Pub. Co ; Toronto : Collier Macmillan Canada ; New
York : Maxwell Macmillan International, c1991.

Location: LA227.4 .S56 1993
Author: Simpson, Ronald D.
Title: Inside college : undergraduate education for the future
/ Ronald D. Simpson and Susan H. Frost ; foreword
by Sven Groennings.
Publisher: New York : Plenum Press, c1993.

Location: LA227.1 .R48 1996
Author: Reuben, Julie A.
Title: The making of the modern university : intellectual
transformation and the marginalization of morality
/ Julie A. Reuben.
Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Location: LB2342 .R488 1997
Title: Restructuring higher education : cost containment and
productivity enhancement efforts of North American
colleges and universities.
Publisher: [New York, N.Y.] : Primary Research Group, [c1997]
Location: LA227.3 .R48 1993
Title: Rethinking tradition : integrating service with academic
study on college campuses / Campus Compact, the Project
for Public and Community Service ; Tamar Y. Kupiec,
Publisher: Denver, Colo. : Education Commission of the States,

Location: LC1011 .R45 1996
Title: Rethinking liberal education / edited by Nicholas H.
Farnham and Adam Yarmolinsky.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, 1996.
Description: 168 p. ; 25 cm.
General-Note: Papers presented at a symposium held at the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Mass.,
in Apr. 1994.
Location: LC220.5 .S45 1996
Author: Jacoby, Barbara.
Title: Service-learning in higher education : concepts and
practices / Barbara Jacoby and associates ; foreword
by Thomas Ehrlich.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1996.

Location: LA226 .M34 1994
Author: Marsden, George M., 1939-
Title: The soul of the American university : from protestant
establishment to established nonbelief / George M.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, c1994.

Location: LA229 .A7948 1993
Author: Astin, Alexander W.
Title: What matters in college? : four critical years revisited
/ Alexander W. Astin.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1993.

Location: LB2322.2 .C45 1993
Author: Chickering, Arthur W., 1927-
Title: Education and identity / Arthur W. Chickering, Linda
Edition: 2nd ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1993.

Location: Q130 .D39 1996
Title: The equity equation : fostering the advancement of women
in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering /
Cinda-Sue Davis ... [et al.].
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1996.

Location: LA227.4 .L45 1996
Author: Lempert, David H.
Title: Escape from the ivory tower : student adventures in
democratic experiential education / David H. Lempert,
in association with Xavier N. de Souza Briggs, and
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1996.
Location: LA229 .P34 1991
Author: Pascarella, Ernest T.
Title: How college affects students : findings and insights
from twenty years of research / Ernest T. Pascarella,
Patrick T. Terenzini ; foreword by Kenneth A. Feldman.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1991.

Location: LB2341 .B554 1994
Author: Bogue, E. Grady (Ernest Grady), 1935-
Title: Leadership by design : strengthening integrity in higher
education / E. Grady Bogue.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1994.
Location: LB1028 .M396 1998
Author: Merriam, Sharan B.
Title: Qualitative research and case study applications in
education / Sharan B. Merriam.
Edition: 2nd ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1998.
Location: LB2341 .L83 1994
Author: Lucas, Ann F.
Title: Strengthening departmental leadership : a team-building
guide for chairs in colleges and universities / Ann
F. Lucas ; foreword by R. Eugene Rice.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, c1994.
Location: LB2331 .T418 1996
Title: Teaching on solid ground : using scholarship to improve
practice / [edited by] Robert J. Menges, Maryellen
Weimer, and associates.
Edition: 1st ed.
Publisher: San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers, c1996.
Location: LA227.3 .B694 1990
Author: Boyer, Ernest L.
Title: Scholarship reconsidered : priorities of the professoriate
/ Ernest L. Boyer.
Publisher: Princeton, N.J. : Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching, c1990.

In the periodicals collection:

Chronicle of higher education
College teaching
Educational Record
Educom Review
Journal of higher education
Liberal Education
NCA Quarterly