© 1972 Association for Institutional Research (http://www.airweb.org/print.asp?page=82)
(page ii)
A Declaration on Institutional Research
A document based on a special conference on the future of institutional research sponsored by the Esso
Education Foundation and the Association for Institutional Research held at Shakertown at Pleasant Hill,
Kentucky, March 29 through April 1, 1971.
(page iii)
Conference Participants:
Chancellor Emeritus
University of Denver
Professor of Higher Education
State University of New York - Buffalo
Co-Director, Academic Administration Project
Ellis L. Phillips Foundation
Professor of Management Science
Graduate School of Business Administration
University of Colorado<
Vice President, Institutional Studies
University of North Carolina
Professor of Education
Southern Illinois University
Director, Institutional Research
University of Michigan
Director, Office of Institutional Research
University of Colorado
Assistant Vice Chancellor, Management
State University of New York - Albany
Associate Executive Vice President
University of Toledo
Vice President, Planning and Special Assignments
The University of Manitoba
Assistant to the Vice President
The University of Lethbridge
Director, Office of Institutional Research
University of California, Berkeley
Vice President and Dean of Planning
Northeastern University
Director, Educational Research
State University System of Florida
The Association for Institutional Research, as well as the author,is deeply in debt to the participants of
this special conference for their enthusiasm, their persistence and, above all, their real contributions. This
document is a record of their efforts.
My sincere gratitude is given to the Esso Education Foundation, in particular Frederick deW. Bolman,
Executive Director, for their willingness to support an idea fostered by an individual speaking for an
Association untested by time. Thomas R. Mason, President of A.I.R., 1969-70, deserves recognition for
his personal efforts to assist in obtaining the foundation grant.
Special acknowledgment goes to Alfred D. Cavanaugh, of my staff at Berkeley, who contributed much
before, during, and after the conference, and Eleanor Langlois, also of my staff, who was a very effective
pre- and post-conference critic.
The members of the 1969-70 and 1970-71 Executive committees have my appreciation for their patience
in listening to my arguments and for their forbearance in reading original and later proposals for the
Warm regards are extended to the entire staff of Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, for their
hospitality and excellent service. I extend a very special thanks to Mrs. Robert L. Morris, Manager of
Shakertown, and Mr. Earl D. Wallace, President of the Board of Trustees. Their individual efforts helped
to make the conference a very enjoyable and productive one.
Early in 1970, I proposed to the Executive Committee of the Association for Institutional Research that
funds be sought to bring together a special conference of researchers and administrators to discuss the
future of institutional research. The Executive Committee agreed that current opinions within and without
the field of institutional research have not presented a clear concept of the nature and the role of
institutional research. They agreed further that the objectives of the Association and the scope and nature
of its services needed reevaluation and redefinition.
Specifically the conference had as its objective the publication of a statement of proposals for (a) the
establishment of precise conceptual boundaries of the definition of institutional research, (b) the
description of the natural set of tasks assignable to institutional research consistent with its definition, (c)
the exploration of new or reemphasized tasks which heretofore have not existed or been prominent in this
field of higher education,(d)the improvement of the effectiveness of the institutional research efforts in the
colleges and universities, and (e) change in the role of the Association for Institutional Research to
improve its service function to the specific activity of institutional research and to higher education in
The conference participants included higher education researchers and administrators from the United
States and Canada with backgrounds in university administration, management science, academic
administration, academic planning, educational research, and institutional research. The charge given the
participants was a long and difficult one, and it is not surprising that in a short period of time not all
problems could be dealt with adequately; nevertheless, there seemed to be a consensus that significant
interpretations of institutional research had been explored and a rather fresh statement was possible.
This document does not attempt to go beyond the discussions at Shakertown; however, in general, the
author undertook the role of elaborator and synthesizer to make the deliberations into a coherent and
hopefully useful document.
Sidney Suslow
Association for Institutional Research
Institutional Research Is an Attitude
The successful practice of institutional research depends upon the individual who has a broad knowledge
of diverse disciplines, in intense understanding of his institution, and, above all, an attitude which commits
him to the value of his institution's purpose in society. The institutional researcher's basic role
encompasses the systematic appraisal of the higher education effort. The institutional researcher serves
higher education and, in turn, his institution through critical appraisal and careful investigation of its
processes and programs. No single or simple combination of disciplines provides sufficient knowledge to
analyse the effectiveness of universities and colleges in a systematic and critical manner. The range of
problems associated with assessing higher education's effectiveness preclude a limited methodology.
The quality of the institutional researcher lies in his ability to discern which methodologies are appropriate
to the problem with which he is concerned: adroit application of advanced tools of management science
may be grossly inappropriate when applied to certain problems of student behavior, and subtle
psychological analysis may lack merit when applied to certain problems of institutional governance.
In addition to complexities of level and nature, institutional research may be concerned with evaluation of
past activities, monitoring of current programs and policies, and modeling and assessment of future
possibilities. No one individual or agency can encompass all of this. A total institutional research effort
depends on a widespread assumption of an attitude of critical and systematic appraisal by practitioners in
line or staff relationship to institutional administration, members of centers for the study of higher
education, coordinating agencies, and state, regional, or national offices concerned with higher education.
The dependency of a total research effort by numerous individuals and agencies performing diverse
functions should not detract from the fundamental role of direct and effective application of the
institutional research attitude at the institutional level where the concept of institutional research had its
origins and where its main thrust must be made.
An institutional research agency must not be given a task assignment orientation, for although it may
have utility, it will have no direction, and the result will be a circular fulfillment of assignments which will
generate as many problems as are solved. If there is no underlying attitude of constructive criticism, the
institutional research agency can only function through the abilities of its staff to choose their methods
carefully in order to provide one or more acceptable resolutions for each task. A task-oriented agency
models its attitudes in conformity with dominant biases and vested interests of the institution, and
although it may have high utility for an institution, it cannot be called institutional research. An institutional
research agency may accept tasks for which there cannot be discerned any relationship with the goals of
higher education, but such acceptances must not be a dominant feature of the agency's efforts if it is to
retain the institutional research name. The Implication of this last statement is important, and it should be
clearly delineated. The institutional research function must not be defined as an array of routine, periodic,
or special tasks unrelated to any fundamental concern with the purpose and quality of higher education.
Functions to exist as operational entities which sustain academic and administrative activities without
regard to their purpose and quality. Sustenance of this kind is important to the continued existence of the
institution, but the transitory and essentially aimless role of this type of operational agency does not
encompass a sufficient boundary for institutional research.
No implication is intended that institutional research agencies formulate purposes and values superior to
those already common to the institution. A necessary conceptual boundary for institutional research is
that it incorporate those purposes and values; but this incorporation is not sufficient, and it must nor be
slavish. There must be within the institutional research role a sufficient degree of independence which
permute it to fully examine and criticize the institution, including its purposes and values. This aspect
alone would not establish the institutional research role as unique, for higher education institutions have
not lacked for critics. Its uniqueness rests in the combination of its role as a positive critic concerned with
the enhancement and advancement of higher education and its role as a researcher, quantifier, and
assessor of quantitative and qualitative information about the institution. As noted at the opening of this
section, the individual practitioner of institutional research must bring a blend of skillful training and
commitment to the institution. While higher education is filled with skillful and committed men and women,
it is not their role, as it is the institutional researcher's, to devote daily effort in the examination of the
functions and processes of the institutions by means of systematic factual appraisal. This definition of the
institutional researcher does not limit the place, time, or person, but it does define a meaningful
conceptual boundary. If the appraisal is not systematic and factual, if it is not concerned with commonly
accepted higher education values, if it is not more or less continuous, then it is not institutional research.
The future of institutional research is dependent in large part on the extent to which the institutions of
higher education are continually concerned with their purposes and values as well as their efficiencies
and productivities.
Institutional Research Is an Active Role
Institutional research must play an active role in the academic and administrative arenas centered around
the analysis of the functions and processes of institutions of higher education in a systematic and critical
way. Regardless of any controversy over which arena has greater concern with the vitality of the
institution, the institutional research role cannot have vitality itself if it ignores either academic or
administrative functions and processes. An active concern requires participation with major officers and
councils in determinations of criteria for institutional effectiveness and in formulations of general programs
for the production of information essential to a continuing analysis of effectiveness.
An active institutional research role also requires the sustenance of an efficacious symmetry between
activities prescribed by its service to the institution and opportunities for exploration in areas responsive to
its own insights and interests. Creativity is an active process which requires a degree of autonomy that
must be real and sufficient to insure the potential for creation. Without this fundamental ingredient, the
composition of the institutional research role lacks potency. To insure its vitality, institutional research,
from time to time, should consciously divorce itself from preoccupation with routine concerns and
activities of the institution and seek to obtain broad perspectives of higher educational processes.
Such speculative and potentiallyinnovative actions are not superfluity; they are imperative to the
maintenance of a balanced frame of reference between the dynamics of higher education and the
restricted abstractions in which much of the institutional research activity is confined.
There are now extant published guides which suggest specific service functions for an institutional
research effort. While these published guides may be helpful to those educators who arc uncertain as to
what is popular, in some ways they do a disservice to the proper understanding of the institutional
research role. A particular service or array of services performed by institutional research should depend
entirely on the specific needs of the institution; they may change over time, but they should be neither the
reason for the existence of institutional research nor the foundation for its formation. While an active role
in constructive evaluation dictates some participation in policy formulation, institutional research should
not determine, establish, or control institutional functions; but, it should participate in the formulation of
policies which lead to their development and use. To study and to evaluate are roles quite distinct from
ones which determine and decide, but the dichotomy for institutional research can be a viable one if the
latter two roles are carefully delineated. Institutional research can help identify and gain consensus on
issues and problems faced by the institution if it assists the policy formulation process by specifying
feasible actions with respect to the issues and problems and if it analyzes the probable utilities and
disutilities of each action.
There should be no dilemma for the individual practitioner of institutional research who is concerned with
involvement in policy formulation; for, if evaluations hare been achieved through objective study and
research, the practitioner should feel free to state a preference for one alternative over another either
independently or when called upon to do so by another agency. Extensive or continuous participation in
policy formulation will negate the primary role of the institutional researcher, although neither specific
guidelines nor any dearly defined boundaries are available to
him to judge when his role has ceased to be institutional research and has become entirely different. The
institutional research practitioner is not, per se, an administrator; and, if his work within his own institution
is to be accepted without suspicion or hostility, he must not act in such a way as to pre-empt or appear to
pre-empt the prerogatives of the administrators. On the other hand, it also must be stressed that the
administrator is not,per se, a researcher. The researcher who has been scrupulous in developing a set of
options for final evaluation and decision, allowing for points of view and evaluations other than his own,
has been as objective as is humanly possible. His subsequent participation in the administrative process
need not impair the rational quality of his initial contribution at the research stage. Whenever that
participation becomes more or less continuous and goal-directed, the researcher role has been vacated
and the administrator role is dominant.
A common misconception is that extensive involvement in day-to-day administrative problems represents
an active role for institutional research and brings it closer to policy formulation in higher education. In
their daily jobs, academic and non-academic administrators take or fail to take numerous courses of
action. These active or passive responses to the flow of information and activity which confront each
administrator can be modified quantitative information and analyses supplied by institutional research.
The misconception lies in the assumption that daily reactions of administration constitute a major
influence on policy formulation. Since most daily acts or failures to act have consequences which are
predictable and unnoteworthy, institutional research products which may influence the nature of these
acts have little durable value. The conceptual error is the equation of an active role with industrious
behavior. Institutional research cannot and should not attempt to avoid daily industry, but it must not allow
this function to possess all of its resources. An active role in policy formulation can be best achieved for
institutional research through careful research and presentation of major studies. These activities require
resources, time, and freedom from continuous interruption. Pursuit of these activities of thorough
research and production of paramount studies must be made assertively by institutional
research if it is to be distinguished from those institutional agencies whose roles require frequent
convulsive responses and if it is to have an important, though restricted, impact on policy formulation.
As noted previously, any listing of specific institutional research functions must be suspected of
unintentional biases; however, it is important to make special note of some current functions
charged to institutional research which are unproductive. Regardless of the organization of the
institutional research program at any institution, there will be limited resources, both of staff and
expendable funds. To conserve its energies, institutional research should not perform the functions of
generator or maintainer of routine and extensive data files, but should be involved in the initial description
of data and monitoring their quality, validity, and reliability. Institutional research should participate in the
development and monitoring of the institution's management information, but it should not be called upon
to maintain any information system on a day-to-day basis nor should it be asked to manage the computer
facility or facilities associated with any system. These functions are necessary and they require trained
staff, but they are processes, not products, of information. The limited resources of any institutional
research effort can be rapidly dissipated if that effort becomes burdened with repetitive, routine data
collection and large systems maintenance. If these functions are called institutional research, they are
incorrectly named.
Institutional Research and Its Effectiveness
The preceding section touched on the role of institutional research in its participation with other campus
agencies in determinations of criteria for institutional effectiveness. These criteria vary from institution to
institution and in many instances have no commonality, but there should be some criteria of effective
performance common to institutional research efforts. Institutional
goals vary, but institutional research, in assisting the institution to reach those goals, must have effective
A self-evident requirement is that institutional research will have no effect on the institution unless its
products are acceptable to potential users. In practice this axiom loses some of its clarity, for some
institutional research products seem destined for no particular market. Acceptable products need not be
solicited products, for users cannot always anticipate which products are needed or which ones will have
high utility; nonetheless, an obvious measure of effective performance is the extent to which users seek
the products of institutional research. To be sought after, institutional research must demonstrate concern
for she problems that are of significance to those responsible for the affairs of the institution, and it must
be capable of timely response. Institutional research evaluations and analyses will bring more order and
rationality to administrative and academic processes if they accurately assess commonly perceived
If institutional research is incapableof perceiving those problems seen by others in the institution and
focuses on myopic issues instead, its performance will be ineffective; and if it employs data which present
distorted reflections of real phenomena, its performance becomes less than purposeful.
To be accepted, the institutional research agency must perform objectively, and its objectivity is manifest
through observable methodologies and verifiable facts. T function would be, but a distinction must be
made between those agencies which routinely distribute their products and those which do not. Unlike
academic departmental research, much institutional research is used oriented and a user may defer any
wide distribution of the institutional research products. A criterion for effective institutional research is the
degree to which it participates in producing undistributable reports, for the more it does the less effective
it is and the less it should be called institutional research. Regardless of the methods used and the
objectivity of the work, clandestine operations are antitheses to institutional research since it must serve
the complete educational program.
An effective institutional research program must include education of its users in the correct interpretation
of its products as well as its own self-education as to the constitution of its users. Responsible users will
help insure that communications are initiated and maintained between themselves and institutional
In carrying out its role of evaluator of institutional programs, institutional research is effective when it
identifies for academic and administrative users those programs that vary to an unacceptable degree
from what was planned, spells out the probable causes of the variance, and arrays alternative actions to
improve the implementation of the program, or suggests changes in the objectives.
Institutional research should identify those institutional programs that may be operating as planned but
which no longer have objectives of sufficient utility to warrant the resources they consume. A particularly
felicitous effective action occurs when institutional research identifies emerging needs that arc not bang
met by any existing program.
Lest the reader conclude that a formidable task has been assigned to an agency with obviously limited
expertise, resources, and omniscience, the foregoing statement on effective institutional research efforts
should not be interpreted as describing a comprehensive activity which subsumes the institution's
academic and administrative programs. While there should be no conceptual limit to the number of
campus agencies which can be involved in institutional research and, therefore, which can assist in
evaluatory exercises, the practical requirements of institutional programs and operations preclude
universal involvement. The effectiveness of institutional research is inversely proportional to the
magnitude and diversity of the projects it undertakes. Perhaps this is a truism for any enterprise, but its
application to institutional research has exceptional significance due to almost unlimited variety and
number of institutional problems. Also, the service nature of institutional research insures that, unlike
academic departmental research, demands will be made of it which cannot be ignored. There should be
no conflict between the broad aims and laudable purposes of institutional research and its limited role and
bounded enterprise. Institutional research should solve some of the institution's problems, but it cannot
solve them all. And, it certainly should not be expected to solve numerous problems simultaneously.
Institutional Research's Location
This document would be incomplete without a discussion of the specific location and primary focus which
distinguishes the institutional research function from other higher education functions.
The ambiguities of the references to institutional research in the preceding sections of this document
were deliberately intended, for while it is true that institutions of higher education increasingly have
funded specialized agencies, institutional research should be encouraged wherever it can be fostered and
whenever it can be productive. For this reason, specific mention of "bureaus of","offices of," or "institutes
of" institutional research were avoided in the foregoing pages; however, regardless of the location,
whether central or diffuse, institutional research must have those attributes of attitude, activity, and
effectiveness already noted.
Without equivocation, in those institutions large enough to support and utilize a formal, organized unit, an
Office of Institutional Research should be attached in a staff relationship to the most appropriate, highest
administrative officer who has an across-the-institution responsibility. This may be, in some cases, the
President or Chancellor, in others the Executive Vice-President or Executive Vice-Chancellor. To locate
the office officially and administratively in a secondary (or at least limited) functional area would reduce its
availability to agencies of the institution other than that in which it is located, diminish its objectivity and
therefore its credibility in some circles, and result in a restricted and specialized interest rather than a
broad interest which is a necessary characteristic of institutional research.
For any given office, the degree of integration with the executive center can be described as a point on a
continuum, from an involvement in day-to-day staff work to an autonomous status which is detached from
the processes of policy formulation. Neither of these extremes are suitable for the Office of Institutional
Research. To perform its role and satisfy its purposes, the office must operate in an intermediate position.
On the one hand, if the office is too involved in administrative matters it may lose credibility and objectivity
and have no time for research bearing on significant policy changes. On the other hand, too complete
isolation or detachment may result in irrelevance or failure to support the goals of the institutions. An
intermediate role emphasizes the relative objectivity required to sustain a creditable performance in
institutional research.
Although this document has stressed the dual responsibility which the field of institutional research has to
academic and administrative functions, an Office of Institutional Research must have, as a practical
matter, a final responsibility to one agency. As already noted, this agency must be the executive officers
who are accountable for all sectors of the administrative and academic functions. Final responsibility to
these chief executive officers of the institution should never mean that the Office of Institutional Research
must be prostituted to their interests alone. These officers will be best served if the Office sustains the
confidence of all sectors of the institution in its reliability, honesty, and plausibility. If the Office is to make
measurable contributions to the institution through its evaluations, analyses, and research, it must have a
conscious detachment from any one special interest in the institution, it must be concerned for the
integrity of its research methods and results, and it must not eschew critical evaluations of policy issues.
The delicate balance between responsibility to the institution's administration and responsibility to
professional integrity can be sustained if integrity is recognized to be in the best interests of the institution.
Institutional Research: Its Name; Its Role
The matter of identity cannot be lightly dismissed for any individual or enterprise. The name "institutional
research" has neither euphony nor clarity, but objections to the name based on these attributes are
erroneously conceived. The name suffers not so much from lack of desirable characteristics as it does
from lack of recognition. Although neither the name nor the actual activity of institutional research are new
to higher education, there is no doubt that both have ascended from relatively obscure positions to
relatively consequential positions in a very short period of time. This prominence does not include
universal recognition, for the function of institutional research has not touched most individuals in higher
education directly, although they may have been affected by its products. The lack of recognition
produces an identity problem common to esoteric names; nevertheless, current observers are aware that
recognition of the name institutional research has grown rapidly in recent years and with it an easy
acceptance of its denotation. There are important factors that support retaining the term. The broad,
inclusive nature of institutional research involving a wide variety of research problems on an equally
varied number of institutional programs requires a name which can subsume all of it. Institutional
research has been in use for a number of years, and despite its obscureness to some, it has had a
growing acceptance among all types of higher education institutions associations, government agencies,
and non-profit educational services. Most important, perhaps, is that the name may offer a challenge to
the individual practitioner as a constant reminder that he should be involved in research, and his primary
responsibility is to the institution he serves. One of the main purposes of this document is to dispel current
equivocation about the nature and role of institutional research. Lengthy discussions about the name
institutional research are trivial and unproductive. Suffice it to say, the name institutional research has
meaning, it has a growing acceptance, it has uniqueness, and it is here to stay.
A discussion of the role of institutional research seems inevitably to lead to a consideration of the
attitudes which characterize this higher education activity. This topic is developed in Section 1, but further
discussion on some specific characteristics are needed to more completely define the boundaries of
institutional research. Planning and evaluation are not synonymous terms. More critically, they arc often
incompatible activities or attitudes. Institutional research is primarily evaluation, but if it is to achieve the
fundamental goal of enhancing academic and administrative processes, it must work closely with
institutional agencies which have institution-wide responsibility for planning and policy formulation.
Contemporary planning in most colleges and universities entails coordination and integration of all
aspects of planning--academic, physical, and financial--and one of the chief functions of institutional
research is to contribute to this coordination and integration. These contributions may take various forms,
such as rognostications, simulations, models, and explorations, and the individual researcher may be
called upon to play an active role in the whole planning process; however, as with the problem of
administration versus research discussed in preceding pages, institutional research diminishes to the
extent that it becomes involved in the implementation of academic plans. The difficulty for some
researchers is their inability to extricate themselves at the proper stage of the planning process. They do
not appreciate the problems which arise from the inconsonant attitudes of objective evaluator and
committed implementor.
Functional units which operate entirely under the institutional agency responsible for planning and which
are called institutional research are incorrectly named. Institutional researchers and academic planners
share many common attributes and are equally concerned with the mission of the institution. Unless the
researcher stops short of implementation in the planning process, he relinquishes his influence as an
objective evaluator and he assumes a partisan role.
A specific role which institutional research can play in planning is in its concern for the effects which
short-range actions have on long-range goals. Through its analysis and research it should strive to
forewarn the planners whenever impending short-range actions may prejudice or militate against
achievement of long-range goals already adopted by the institution. Concomitantly, nstitutional research
should seek to insure that specific objectives and values sought through long-range planning are
included, when appropriate, in the limited objectives and values sought in short-range planning.
If institutional research is not planning, per se, it is also not management science, systems analysis,
record management, computer programming, or a host of other essential but technical functions.
Institutional research must incorporate some aspects of these functions in its research and evaluations;
but concern with the institution's goals cannot be limited to applications of methodologies or expertise
untempered by educational values. The novelty of defining the educational process in computer language
has caused disruptions and distortions in the way education should be appraised. A consequence of this
effect is that the educator unfamiliar with the application of computer technology, management science,
and systems analysis in the educational process is not equipped to resist the implications of quantifiable
information as they apply to qualitative objectives, regardless of their potential merits or defects. As more
state agencies and other funding authorities staff their offices with management-oriented technologists,
the educator is forced to justify his programs to individuals who do not clearly understand his language.
With sufficient knowledge of the practices and
methodologies of the technologists, institutional research should serve as a mediator between them and
the educator-administrator. By providing a communication link, institutional research can help prevent
mismanagement which results from inaptly applied quantification and formalization of those educational
processes which are essentially qualitative and, at times, informal. At the same time, this communication
link can serve to assist the educator to appreciate and use those technical tools and products which may
have benefit for the institution. Perhaps more critical to the current problems in higher education is that
this mediator role for institutional research can be considered as a third force between the force of the
educators whose basic interests, goal motivations, and philosophies differ from the force of the
management scientists, system analysts, and similar technologists. The pressures generated by the latter
two forces are likely either to cancel each other or produce adverse effects in higher education. The thirdforce concept and role for institutional research puts an informal communication pathway into action to
channel the pressures into productive areas.
To be an effective third force it is incumbent on institutional research to actively assess the contribution of
special techniques which may have utility when used in evaluations of higher education's programs. Such
techniques as decision models, goal programming, technological forecasting, and systems analysis are
important, but developments in psychology, economics, and sociology, for example, could be of equal or
even greater importance. No single researcher can embrace all of these technologies, nor is it likely that a
formally organized Office of Institutional Research can be staffed to encompass them all. This implies that
the individual researcher should develop active association with faculty in germane disciplines so that he
can understand the basis of the methodologies, exercise judgment as to which techniques might have
value, and identify experts in the field upon whom he can rely to implement the techniques.
If institutional research is neither management science nor social science, if it is neither administrator nor
data gatherer, what is it?
Institutional research is a special kind of educational research in colleges and universities focused on the
institution, and its products are largely directed toward academic planning and administrative activities.
While institutional research may be more goal directed than most educational research, there are no
inherent obstacles which prevent it from generating new concepts. Arguments as to whether institutional
research is applied or pure research have little practical significance, for it is neither one nor the other and
inevitably it will involve a lot of both.
A discussion of the role and nature of institutional research seems to lead to a consideration of the
attitudes or, if you will, characteristics of this activity in higher education. Only a collection of
characteristics can adequately define the mission of institutional research so as to distinguish it from other
activities. For purposes of discussion, here is one such collection: pursuit of goals neither mundane nor
perfunctory, detachment from day-to-day policy formulations and implementations; active assessment of
the long-range effects of existing or proposed policies and their implementations; constant quest for new
methodologies and their purposeful applications; enthusiasm for proposals made by others for new
methods and new utilizations, but a vigilant skepticism for partisan, mediocre, or reputedly consummate
solutions; willingness to assume a spectrum of responsibilities and requests to provide assistance to
academic and administrative functions of the institution.
An Active Role for the Association for Institutional Research Although the primary emphasis of the
conference was on the activity called institutional research, there were careful deliberations regarding the
Association for Institutional Research. This concern with the Association was not intended to be self
serving simply because the Association helped support the conference. The concern was real, for among
activities and organizations which support them, institutional research probably has a more unusual
symbiosis between its activity and organization than most other functions in higher education. While there
is no doubt that the activity of institutional research preceded the formal organization of institutional
research, there is equally no doubt that the formation of the Association was the genesis of the very rapid
propagation of agencies of institutional research. Perhaps not unexpectedly this rapid growth brought with
it debate over the nature, the role, and the value of institutional research. Ten years have passed since
the first forums of institutional research were held. The beginning of a new decade is an appropriate point
to search for means of improving the activity of institutional research and concomitantly the Association
which was formed in direct response to serve this higher education function.
Every occupation or profession as it develops creates the means for communication among its members.
The Association for Institutional Research has evolved to meet this need of institutional researchers. It
has become
the professional association for individuals concerned with higher education institutional research,
academic planning, institutional analysis, and related functions. The membership of the Association has
always had a high heterogeneity of specific higher education occupational titles. This heterogeneity
represents the broad mission of institutional research as well as the diverse locations where it has been
practiced. More importantly, the variety of individuals strengthens the role chosen by the Association "to
benefit, assist, and advance research leading to improved understanding, planning, and operation of
institutions of higher education." Membership diversity and individuality are the best avenues to provide
the most effective means of sustaining and enhancing the role of the Association. The continuous growth
in membership may add measurably to the influence the Association will have in higher education; but
while a populous association cannot be ignored, its size is no guarantee for effective change, a thesis
which many groups can confirm.
More than any other element, the cornerstone of the Association's influence rests on its individual
membership; that is the foundation for the Association's current and potential programs for improving
research and planning m higher education depends on its organization as an individual rather than an
institutional membership. The programs and proposals which may emanate from the Association carry no
implication of special interests being served. The members are partisans in their desire to improve their
profession and their contributions to higher education, but they are not satellites to my institution or group
of institutions.
In order to understand the recommendations which follow for future developments of the Association for
Institutional Research, it is useful to consider a single characteristic which describes individual members.
Institutional researchers can be thought of as information specialists who are intensely concerned with
information purposes and values and less concerned with information quantities or mechanisms. While
this description has little practical significance, its usefulness here resides in the type of contributions
which the collective membership can make to higher
education. The Association should help improve communication not only among its own researchers in
the held but also among allied specialists who are involved in higher education academic and
administrative evaluations and planning. It should encourage and stimulate meetings not only at the
national level through its forums, but through local meetings, state conferences, and regional assemblies.
It should stimulate the flow of information services, such as bibliographic lists, abstracts, and
monographs, by initiating an inquiry center where members and non-members can find information about
studies at various institutions.
In their role as higher education information specialists, the members should use the Association to
establish regional, national, and international advisory groups to assist governmental agencies in
development of procedures and definitions for the collection and reporting of information from higher
education institutions. Actions of this kind have already taken place a: the national level in the United
States. The Association should support similar actions in Canada and in various regional areas wherever
it is appropriate to do so. The collective advice of such groups must be recognized as impartial insofar as
service to special institutional interests is concerned. The diversity of opinion and the multifarious needs
of each institution precludes he probability that an advisory group made up of several Association
members would present self-serving recommendations. Of course, their recommendations would assist
all of them as well as all other institutions by reducing requests which have conceptual errors and poorly
conceived procedures, but presumably the reduction of requests with these characteristics is also in the
interest of governmental agencies.
In addition to groups of advisors, the Association should develop mechanisms to identify and provide
procedures for use of qualified practitioners of institutional research in assisting regional associations with
their self-study requirements, data gathering operations, and their examination of institutional research
and academic planning at individual institutions. A service of this type also needs to be developed for
individual institutions whose resources
prohibit stalling for diverse contingencies. Although emerging colleges and universities may have the
greatest need for consultants, most institutions from time to time have need of specialists who are neither
staff members nor readily identified through current contact sources. The Association's role in providing a
service of this kind is manifest by its heterogeneous and egalitarian membership and by its impartiality.
A very specific role which the Association can play in improving the flow of information is to establish
some mechanism, such as a standing committee, to review upon request any questionnaire from any
source which is planned to be sent to colleges and universities. This body should make recommendations
regarding these questionnaires, and permit their authors to state that the questionnaire has been found
acceptable by the Association. Additionally, individual members could be encouraged to consider
sympathetically those surveys fount acceptable by the Association.
The facilitation of the flow of information is a very direct method by which the Association should help
improve planning and research in higher education. Indirectly, it can achieve equally beneficial results
through programs designed to improve the quality of the discipline and the professional practitioner. The
Association should provide in-service education for members of the field, not only through its existing
Forums but also through other training programs and educational materials, such as special regional
seminars on particular issues and problems, and work-book manuals or lessons on special analytic
techniques. These training programs are the primary means of continuing to upgrade the work of the field
and should be the prime responsibility of the Association. No other means, such as doctoral programs in
institutional research, will ever meet this need for in-service education.
These two functions of education and communication are the bare minimum for an adequate association
for the field of institutional research. By themselves they will require increased funding for the Association.
The Association should seek funding for adequate staff to undertake these services, not only from the
individual members of the Association, but from philanthropy.
Lastly, the Association should assume the responsibility of devising a statement of professional standards
for practitioners of the field of institutional research.