Many institutions of higher education collect very useful quantitative data as part of their regular operational and reporting processes. Why not put it to good use for your project evaluations or grant proposals? An office of institutional research, which often participates in the reporting process, can serve as a guide for data definitions and can often assist in creating one-time reports on this data and/or provide training to access and use existing reports.

Course Offerings: How many classes are offered in statistics? How frequently are they offered? Getting a sense of course enrollment numbers over time can illustrate need in a grant narrative. If a project involves the creation of new curricular elements, pre- and post-intervention enrollment numbers can serve as an outcome measure in an evaluation.

Student Transcripts: Is there a disproportionate number of veterans taking Spanish? How do they fare? Where do students major and minor? These data can serve as proxies for interest in different majors, identify gateway courses that might need support, uncover course-taking patterns, and/or relationships to GPA or full-/part-time status. Many of these can become outcomes or benchmarks in the evaluations, as well as context for a narrative.

Student Demographic and Admissions Data: Who are our students? How do they shape the institutional narrative?  Examine academic origin (high school, community college); incoming characteristics such as GPA, SAT, or ACT scores; race/ethnicity; veteran status; age; gender; Pell-grant eligibility status; underrepresented minority status; resident/nonresident status; and on-/off-campus housing. Student populations can be broken down into treatment cohorts for an evaluation of groups shown by research to benefit most from the intervention.

Faculty Demographic Information: Who are our faculty?  Examining full-time/part-time status, race/ethnicity, and gender can yield interesting observations. How do faculty demographics match students’ demographics? What is the student/faculty ratio? This information can enhance narrative descriptions of how students are served.

Financial Aid Data: How do we support our students fiscally? Information about cost of attendance vs tuition, net cost vs. “sticker cost,” percentage of students graduating with loans and average loan burden can be important to describe. It can also be a way of dividing students when evaluating outcomes, and can be an outcome measure in itself for grants intended to affect financial aid or financial literacy.

Student Outcomes: What does persistence look like at your institution? What are the one-year,  retention rates; four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates; and number of graduates by CIP (Classification by Instructional Programs) code?  These are almost always the standard benchmarks for interventions intended to affect retention and completion.

To further your case and provide context, comparison data for most of these are available in IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) and may be tracked by federal surveys like the Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal survey and National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey, all of which are potential sources for external benchmarking. Of course, collecting these types of data can be addictive as you discover new ways to enliven your narrative and empower your evaluation with the help of institutional research. Happy hunting!

To learn more about institutional data from Carolyn and Russ, read their contribution to EvaluATE’s blog at

About the Authors

Carolyn Brennan

Carolyn Brennan box with arrow

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research University of Washington Bothell

Carolyn Brennan leads the Office of Research which provides research development, administration and compliance support to the UW Bothell campus and houses the office of undergraduate research. She has been a part of the growing campus research culture since 2006 and is an active member of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) and the Society of Research Administrators (SRA).

Russell Cannon

Russell Cannon box with arrow

Director of Institutional Research University of Washington Bothell

Russell Cannon is the Director of Institutional Research at the University of Washington Bothell where his office oversees strategic analysis, reporting, and institutional assessment. His work focuses on the use of applied mixed-methods research and strategic planning to promote access, student success, and sustainable institutional development. He is also a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison H.O.P.E. Lab and writes on education policy and data via his blog and on Twitter @aroundlearning.

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