Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"The Functions of Institutional Research" (kỳ 5 - tiếp theo và hết)

Another technique of institutional research is comparative analysis. Quantitative descriptions are given meaning by comparison. Several bases of comparison may be used. One basis is the comparable prior year value or the trend for a series of prior years. For example, meaning is added to an average class size of 36 for the history department by comparing this average with the averages for past years. A second basis is comparison with similar units. For example, how does the average class size for the history department compare with the averages for the sociology and economics departments.

The basis of comparison may be some predetermined standard. Using such considerations as student demand for history courses, the educationally desirable size of classes for different courses, and teaching-load policy, it may have been established that the average class size of the introductory courses should be 50 and of advance courses 20, for an overall average size of 32. The actual size of 36, then, will exceed the standard.

Other institutions provide yet another basis of comparison. How does the figure 36 compare with the average class sizes (calculated the same way!) for the history departments of other (comparable) colleges or universities?

Data exchange is a practice of institutional research which provides the data required to make comparison with other colleges or universities. The normal procedure is for a group of peer institutions to agree upon sets of data to be exchanged and the schedule for the exchange activities. Several approaches are used. At one extreme, fully analyzed data (e.g., unit cost or student-credit-hour-per-faculty-appointment ratios) are exchanged. At the other extreme, >more basic data are exchanged in formats which permit each participating institution to conduct analyses in a manner tailored to local conventions, analytical procedures, and needs. Data exchanges which lead to peer institutional comparisons are frequently undertaken by public colleges and universities in order to generate information for use in supporting requests for governmental appropriations. A second purpose is to provide information to enlighten institutional planning, policy formulation and decision making.

Colleges and universities exchange information on policies and procedures as well as data. Deliberations on a policy issue often lead to the question "What is the policy at our peer institutions?" The data exchange mechanism can be used to answer this question. Data exchanges often take place electronically. Data are exchanged on floppy disks or over telephone lines. Comparisons of policies and procedures are facilitated by electronic mail.

A concern with data definition underlies almost all varieties of institutional research because the information resulting from analyzed data of any type can be only as meaningful as the definitions underlying the original data and the degree to which the definitions are observed in assembling the data. The definitions must lead to data that are meaningful to those who use the data and that are relevant to planning, policy and other decision issues of the college or university. The involvement of persons responsible for institutional research in data administration occurs, at least in part, because of the importance of the definitions underlying the information. The importance of the involvement of the ultimate user, the decision maker, in determining the definitions is recognized by the processes used in developing a decision support system. Agreement on, and use of, data definitions is a central concern in data exchange efforts and in all other forms of comparative analysis. The term "comparison" implies careful attention to data compatibility and comparability which are assured only by sound and complete definitions.

Contributions of Institutional Research to Planning, Decision Making, and Policy Formulation

The range and variety of problems, questions and issues which arise in higher education and for which institutional research is relevant defy categorization or enumeration. Any administrator and any committee may seek institutional esearch to inform plans, decisions and actions. In many cases the researcher can aid in specifying the information to be brought to bear on a problem or issue and, for this reason, should be included at an early stage. The breadth of the potential applicability of institutional research is indicated by the following illustrations.

Institutional research can aid in determining how the institution's several publics perceive its missions and goals and in specifying new or altered missions, goals and objectives. It can assist in relating performance to goals by assessing institutional outcomes and accomplishments, can point to areas in which performance does not appear to meet expectations and can suggest strategies for improvement. Institutional research can facilitate institutional self-study and accreditation processes and can contribute evidence that the college or university is accountable for its use of resources and performance.

Institutional research can contribute to program planning and development by means of market research and needs assessment. It can support intensive reviews of programs or departments by providing relevant factual evidence and by summarizing qualitative information. It can illuminate reviews and revisions of curricula by producing information on students' course-selection behavior. Institutional research can provide information relevant to questions about the grade-giving behavior of faculty and the grade-earning behavior of students; such questions may arise from concerns about standards or about equity with students.

Institutional research can study the culture of the college or university, investigating the extent to which various values and norms are present among the faculty, students and administrators and the extent to which the culture is shared or in conflict. Information from such investigations can inform the direction of planning or policy and can provide an understanding of potential obstacles to moving in new directions.

Institutional research underlies the improvement of instruction. Procedures and specific instruments used in the evaluation of instruction, such as student rating-of-instruction forms, are selected or developed by means of research. The evaluation of instructional methods and media is a process designed to ead to improvement and is guided by evidence from research.

Institutional research can assist in identifying inefficiencies in instructional activities and in the allocation of resources. Data on class sizes, teaching loads and student-credit-hour productivity and data on the incidence of small classes and on the frequency of offering of individual courses are made available to academic administrators.

The admissions program can benefit from institutional research. Criteria for admissions can derive from relationships between measures of student ability and success in programs. Data on sources of students and the "yields" of alternative strategies of admissions officers and others can assist in tailoring the admissions program to the mission and goals of the college or university and of specific programs.

Institutional research not only can provide enrollment projections but also can provide analyses of enrollment trends and relationships which guide enrollment policy and suggest assumptions and strategies for enrollment planning. Data describing the student body can be related to enrollment goals. Data on retention and attrition can reveal problems. Institutional research on causes of attrition and on strategies for increasing retention can contribute to maximizing society's investment in education.

Institutional research can support efforts to provide education to special types of students by assessing their preferences, predispositions and academic behavior. In what regards do part-time students, minority-group students, women students, highly talented students, handicapped students, older students and others differ from the traditional student in ways which have implications for the achievement of the educational goals of such students and of the college or university? Students' program, course and scheduling behavior can be summarized, and attempts to achieve student and institutional goals can be evaluated.

Institutional research can assist with initiatives intended to foster access to the educational opportunities offered by the college or university and can contribute to attempts to ensure that the applicant's choice of the institution is an informed one. Institutional research can assist in developing the consumer information which should be available to prospective students. The financial affairs of students can be determined and used as consumer information as well as referents for the determination of financial aid programs and policies. The effectiveness of the program of financial aid in achieving the goals set for this program can be evaluated and the evaluation may lead to improved use of financial aid resources.

Equal opportunity and affirmative action goals are established with the aid of information, and data are used to assess progress toward the goals. The establishment of salary and compensation goals, policies and guidelines can be informed by institutional research. Investigations of equity in salaries for faculty, administrators and support staff draw upon a wide variety of variables. Institutional research offices may also become involved in litigation on issues of affirmative action and salary discrimination by serving as the source of "official" data and analysis.

Institutional research can be applied in the evaluation and improvement of such programs as academic advising, counseling, career planning, placement, intercollegiate athletics, health services and housing.

Questions about faculty workload and considerations of policy pertaining to it can be illuminated by institutional research. Current workload patterns can be measured. Faculty preferences regarding workload patterns can be determined.

Questions about the size, composition and quality of the faculty can be subjects for institutional research. Promotion and tenure practices and rates can be displayed and analyzed, and a faculty-flow model can be used to project the effects of alternate assumptions or policies on numbers and characteristics of the faculty at points in the future. Characteristics and preferences of faculty members, described by institutional research, can be useful in planning programs of faculty development. Issues involved in the appraisal of faculty performance--whether arising from goals of faculty development or from questions about promotion, tenure and salary policies and procedures--can be subjects for institutional research. Information which is the subject of collective bargaining, where it exists, is assembled by institutional research.

The processes involved in resource acquisition and allocation rely on institutional research. Budgets are analyzed in the contexts of goals, priorities, workload and performance. Income and expenditure projections are made to guide budget planning. Costs analyses are carried out in support of various responsibilities of governance.

Institutional research can contribute to the institution's development program. It can provide and assist in organizing information about the institution used in proposals for external funding of specific projects; it can assist in building case statements for fund-raising campaigns; and it can contribute to designing information-based strategies for seeking donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals.

Institutional research can aid in the formulation of policies, structures and rates for student tuition and fees. Enrollment projections can be translated into projections of tuition and fee income.

Facilities planning, allocation and management are guided by institutional research. The inventory of buildings and rooms is maintained. Utilization of classrooms and other types of space is measured and compared with standards to guide reallocation decisions. Assessments of the condition, suitability and utilization of existing facilities combine with the requirements of programs to produce plans for maintenance, rehabilitation, remodeling and new building. Energy use and conservation are areas of study which have obvious applicability to problems facing colleges and universities.

Institutional research alone cannot lead to sound plans, appropriate policies, or correct decisions for the college or university. The wisdom, integrity, and courage possessed by those who share the responsibilities of governance are the principal determinants of the soundness of plans, the appropriateness of policies, and the correctness of decisions. Institutional research can, however, provide data and information which contribute to and, in some instances, are essential for maintaining the quality of governance expected of an institution whose existence is based upon principles of rationality, wisdom and truth.

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