Discovery

Data, Data Everywhere

The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment tells Howard's story through data and dashboards.

by Rin-rin Yu
IRA staff standing in front of Howard gates in matching sweaters

Academic decisions do not happen in a bubble – the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (IRA) makes sure of that. Since its creation three years ago, IRA has been operating within the Office of the Provost and Chief Academic Officer, churning out reports based on data – lots of data – to help professors, departments, deans and others make thoughtful decisions and improve planning across the University.

“We’re kind of the storytellers who help programs tell their story,” says Kyle Shanks, assistant director of assessment.

The team, under the leadership of Associate Provost Dr. Daphne Bernard, is made up of passionate data scientists, assessment professionals and higher education wonks. IRA’s mission is two-fold: one, to support internal decisions and external reporting requirements; two, to support assessment and accreditation activities across campus. The team monitors and reports on student outcomes and student success factors. In addition, they compile surveys, administer course evaluations and more to determine whether various stakeholders have reached their goals. On the IRA website, there are colorful, interactive dashboards charting the various information.

“We are the data repository for the University,” says Yesenia Espinal, director of institutional research. “We ensure that data used across the University is reliable and accurate.”

IRA helps to bridge the gap between expectations and performance. Recently, IRA provided data that was critical in earning a $5 million dollar commitment in support of the GRACE (Graduation & Retention Access to Continued Excellence) Grant program and a $31.7 million dollar grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to help pay down student debt. Espinal says IRA is partnering with the strategic planning office to help drive Howard Forward. It serves as a liaison for Workday, the University’s new financial and human resources management software, to ensure streamlined reporting. IRA also purchased and uses the U.S. News & World Report academic rankings tool and database to assist with comparative analysis on a national level.

Both the institutional research and assessment arms of IRA are constantly pushing Howard Forward. “IRA is a place where the University comes with questions,” says Glenn Phillips, director of assessment. “Our job is to help find an answer or to ask a better question.”

This story appears in the Fall 2021 issue.

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