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Low profile; big reputation

The Office of Institutional Research

Peggy Rader


May 5, 2009

The Office of Institutional Research (OIR) is one of those operations at the University that most employees and students are unaware of. Among institutional research professionals nationally, however, OIR is well known.

OIR supports planning, policy analysis, and strategic management across the University. One of OIR’s routine tasks is to maintain and update the annual University Progress Report, which reflects the status of the University on a number of characteristics as related to a group of peer research universities. The most recent report is available at progress.

OIR researchers study “student success,” identifying those characteristics of the students and the institution that might predict success or failure. Characteristics include student demographic information, financial aid capacity, and engagement outside the classroom.

OIR creates faculty and staff profiles and trends to document University progress compared with peer institutions. Gender and ethnicity, salaries and benefits, and length of employment are some of the characteristics examined.


Members of OIR have been instrumental in developing the Voluntary System of Accountability. This system provides a template for displaying consistent and uniform data about public universities and colleges across the United States which are important to potential students as they make college choices. The system is “much more reliable for students and families trying to make a decision about college than the U.S.News and World Report rankings,” says Rich Howard, director of OIR.

Several members of the OIR were informed this past winter that, in recognition of a paper they presented at the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) Forum this past spring, they will receive the 2008 AIR Forum Best Paper Award at the AIR Forum this June in Atlanta.

The paper’s authors are Daniel Jones-White, Ronald Huesman, and John Kellogg from OIR, and Peter Radcliffe from the Academic Health Center. The paper considers techniques for the study of student retention and graduation across institutions of higher education. AIR Forum’s publications editorial advisory committee notes that the paper is an excellent blend of a timely topic, state-of-the-art methodology, and useful outcomes. Six members of the OIR staff will be making peer-reviewed presentations at the AIR national forum.

“Our office’s capacity to look internally at our data systems and apply innovative statistical approaches to create reliable information, as well as our national and regional service, have made us very visible nationally,” Howard says.

“Under Rich Howard's leadership, the office has assembled an extraordinary talented group of analysts,” says Bob Kvavik, associate vice president for planning. “These are people who are able to undertake a wide array of difficult projects that support strategic planning and goals articulated by President Bruininks and his vision for the University.”

OIR has an illustrious history that began with institutional research in the College of Education in the mid-20th century. John Stecklein, a professor of educational psychology, helped to define the field through his work in the college’s Bureau of Institutional Research, formed in 1949. Stecklein was AIR’s first president and AIR’s highest award, the Distinguished Member Award, was changed to the John E. Stecklein Award in 2004. Currently, OIR is a unit within System Academic Administration under senior vice president Robert Jones.

"We’re proud of our history and our national prominence, and we'll work hard to maintain it," Howard says.