30 Years of Institutional Research at MIT
This past October, the Institutional Research group celebrated 30 years of research, data collection, analysis, and service to the MIT community. What was originally a group conceived as a branch within the Planning Office to provide accurate data and support to the academic budget process and the physical planning activities at MIT, Institutional Research (IR) is now a foundational and instrumental asset for staff, faculty, and students alike, with a reach far exceeding its initial purposes.
A core activity of Institutional Research is the compilation of MIT data commonly characterized as people, money, and space. Institutional Research works with the data custodians to identify sources and definitions of data. Charts based on this historical dataset are often seen in the M.I.T. Numbers section of the Faculty Newsletter. Other visualizations are accessible to the community on the IR Website.
Some of the earliest projects tackled by Institutional Research, which at the time consisted of two people housed in Building 12, involved assisting in the assessment and deliberations over Institute space, including the construction of the Biology Building as well as working on a study of the animal care facilities to ensure that adequate space was available to researchers. Another less appreciated project was the analysis work IR did which resulted in MIT's decision to charge for parking and subsidize public transit passes for employees. Over time, Institutional Research provided analyses for a variety of Institute projects and Lydia Snover, IR’s first and only Director, became an important resource for faculty, senior administrators, and staff.
Early in its existence, the Institutional Research group was given the responsibility for responding to data requests from external organizations, including the many ranking organizations such as US News and World Report, Times Higher Ed, and QS World University Rankings. As the number of rankings has grown, IR has worked with old and new organizations to define the range and depth of metrics used by ranking organizations to evaluate universities, helping to better articulate what is valued in higher education (web.mit.edu/ir/rankings/index.html).
Probably the most visible activity associated with Institutional Research is the administration of surveys to the MIT community and the dissemination of analysis. IR administers a number of surveys to MIT students, some in conjunction with peer institutions.
Recent surveys include the biennial Transportation Survey, the Faculty and Staff Quality of Life Survey, biennial Senior Surveys, and the Admitted Graduate Student Survey. The results of many of the central surveys administered by IR are available online. In addition to the large institutional survey, IR is a resource for any group that plans to run a survey for research or administrative purposes.
In 2000, Institutional Research moved to the Office of the Provost, and the primary focus became the academic enterprise. IR provides an array of services to the academic Schools and departments, as well as providing data and other resources to the numerous committees, task forces, and working groups at the Institute. These committees have included the Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science, The Initiative for Faculty Race and Diversity, task forces on graduate student housing and tuition, the working group on rankings, the task force on The Future of Education, and many others. The IR staff assist in the various accreditation processes, including the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Further, 10 years ago, Institutional Research was charged with spearheading the production of the MIT Briefing Book, an essential yearly publication sponsored by the Vice President for Research and the MIT Washington Office. The Briefing Book, researched and written by a variety of MIT faculty and staff, particularly members of Institutional Research, serves as a compilation of information about MIT as well as MIT’s many research activities, highlighting projects funded by federal agencies, industry, and nonprofit institutions.
Institutional Research is also the official liaison to the Association of American Universities Data Exchange (AAUDE) and to the Institutional Research group in Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE), both organizations serving highly selective universities. The group is responsible for compiling data on the faculty hiring process and graduate student admissions.
Finally, several years ago the group was tasked with the development and maintenance of the Institute-wide Electronic Professional Record (ePR). This application, which originated in the School of Engineering, was developed as a central repository for faculty and staff to compile, in one central location, information of their professional activities. In 2014, Institutional Research took on the role of trustee (gatekeeper) of data collected from MITx courses, so that it could be used for educational research.
For Snover, her own vision of the office has always been a simplistic one: to provide accurate, unbiased data and analyses that support decision-making and document changes in the Institute over time. By maintaining such a mission, Snover has ensured the relevance and usefulness of the Institutional Research function. In marking 30 years as head of IR, she puts it: “We are an office that cannot say no.” Certainly, it is a sentiment for which many at the Institute are grateful.
Editor's Note: The following M.I.T. Numbers from this issue of the Faculty Newsletter are examples of information generated by Institutional Research.