Here’s a glimpse into the world of institutional research (IR). In this section, you will learn what IR is, what IR professionals do, and the pathway to an IR career. 

Primary Functions and Roles of Institutional Research Offices

The field of IR is constantly evolving, therefore primary functions and roles evolve. Currently, IR offices generally fall under two main classifications: Institutional Research (IR) or Integrated Institutional Effectiveness (IIE).

One of the most widely accepted definitions of institutional research (IR) is by Joe Saupe, who emphasized “institutional research as a set of activities that support institutional planning, policy formation, and decision making (1990)”[source link]. Essentially, the purpose of IR is to turn data into information so stakeholders and leaders can make data-informed decisions.

There are varying, yet similar, definitions of institutional effectiveness (IE). The Association for Higher Education Effectiveness (AHEE) defines Integrated Institutional Effectiveness (IIE) as “the purposeful coordination and integration of functions that foster student success and support institutional performance, quality, and efficiency; those functions include strategic planning, outcomes assessment, institutional research, regional/specialized accreditation, and program/unit review.” The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) defines Institutional effectiveness (IE) planning as “higher education institution’s effort to organize evaluation, assessment, and improvement initiatives so the institution can determine how well it is fulfilling its mission and achieving its goals. Institutional effectiveness planning may cover:

  • Institutional research,
  • Program review (academic and/or administrative),
  • Student learning outcome assessment,
  • Accreditation, and
  • Plan measurement and decision support.” [source link]

Essentially, the purpose of IE is to help the institution determine how well an institution is performing in fulfilling its mission.

Note that both IR and IIE offices often have a "10,000-foot view" of the institution while also "in the weeds." Since colleges and universities tend to structure IR/IIE offices specific for their needs, each may have different functions, types of roles, reporting structures, and staffing sizes, making no two offices exactly alike.  

The Career Path of an IR Professional

Ask any IR professional. A career in IR does not have a standard pathway. Many received a liberal arts education and entered IR as part of a career change. In fact, some may not have even heard of the field prior to taking their IR role.  

In recent years, the IR profession has begun creating a pipeline by way of graduate certificate programsThe level of education required for an IR position varies, ranging from a Bachelor’s to Doctorate degree, as does experience requirements. Common areas of applicable study include:  social sciences, math, statistics, data science, computer science, political science, economics, or a related research field.  

Most in the profession appreciate the collegial relationships that develop, enjoy working with numbers, and function well both individually and collaboratively. However, some do not find the pace and variety of tasks at any given time a good fit. Check out available jobs to learn more.  

To learn more about careers in data science visit the Tech & Data Science Resource Portal on the Lawrence University (LU) Career Center - Resource Hub page.