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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

About IRPA

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The Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment (IRPA) serves as the official source of objective data about the University's students; its programs and their effectiveness; its resources; and its peer institutions. We support the University's overall performance measurement activities and coordinate the assessment activities of its academic and administrative departments.

In support of our main purpose, we answer requests for information about the University from other campus units and from state and federal agencies, accrediting bodies, college guides, and the general public. We access a wide variety of databases to support longitudinal studies and statistical analysis. We collaborate with other offices to advance the integrity and develop the usability of the University's information systems.

IRPA Goals

  • Facilitate greater understanding of the University
  • Foster informed policies
  • Help create a shared reality with factual based information
  • Support proactive decision-making
  • Create and manage common definitions
  • Champion continuous improvement
  • Advocate data integrity

What Do We Do?

Counting and Measuring
Institutional research professionals are often engaged in the task of counting. Whether we are counting student, FTEs (full-time equivalencies), credit hours, or faculty the first thing we have to do is count to one. On the surface this seems to be a straight forward undertaking. Unfortunately, it is far from simple.

What characteristic or group of characteristics describing a relationship to a college or university must a person possess to be counted as a "student?" What kind of student? What about the individual who belongs to both the group called "students" and the group called "faculty?" These are basic questions that must be answered before counting and measurement can begin.

Evaluation and Assessment

Institutional researchers often lead local institutional assessment projects because of their familiarity with quantitative analysis and the available institutional information resources. In program assessment and evaluation institutional researchers act as consultants and provide assistance.

"Data Leaders"

One of the most important roles for institutional research is developing relationships among the various data management officers in the institution and working with them to ensure the use of standard and consistent definitions; developing auditing procedures to catch anomalies; and to coordinate the inspection of data and information released.

Knowledge Building

Knowledge of the institution and its activities does not simply appear. It is created and generated by study, research, and the purposeful search for understanding.


Institutional research provides planning-relevant data for activities such as enrollment, admissions, completions, and financial services.

Policy Analysis

Lately institutional researchers are taking on an increasing role in policy analysis. New government mandates about reporting, requirements from accrediting bodies, and ratings and rankings such as US News & World Report's "America's Best Colleges" require institutional research professionals to evaluate external events and requests.

Facilitate Understanding

One of the most important roles of the institutional research professional is to facilitate understanding throughout the institution about the nature and meaning of institutional data and information. What does data mean? What is its source and significance? These are the questions that institutional researchers must answer.

How Do We Do It?

  • We design, collect, analyze, interpret, and distribute information, research and survey data to appropriate University individuals and units;
  • We study and analyze institutional data to support decisions regarding planning, assessment and evaluation of student learning, and institutional effectiveness;
  • We act as intermediaries between multiple units to bring about change in policies and procedures to ensure better data standardization and integrity;
  • We follow a process of: 1) Understanding the question; 2) Building the definitions; 3) Studying the context; 4) Defining the method; 5) Critiquing the data; 6) Performing the analysis; 7) Evaluating the analysis; and 8) Verifying the question.

Our Operating Practice

In its day-to-day operations, the IRPA staff members produce numerous reports -- some required by law -- about the University's students, faculty, staff, courses, degree programs, and a wide variety of other subjects. We collect and monitor assessment reports for each degree program and educational support unit and help to promote the appropriate use of assessment data for institutional improvement. We publish information about the University through reports and through the IRPA web site. We often provide information for reports published by other campus units. Because of the extent, volume, and variety of these activities, we have adopted the following general operating guidelines:

  • We provide products and services that fall within our mission -- to engage in proactive and transparent research, planning and assessment enhancing policy formation and decision-making through high quality, accurate information and evidence-based practices.
  • Our highest priority is serving the President, Provost, Vice Presidents, Deans, Department Chairs, and Directors, in that order. This service includes assisting with or completing mandatory reports to governmental and accrediting agencies. We will focus on using both regular and requested reports as occasions to support the work of the University's senior leadership.
  • We attempt to meet all requests for information and assistance that are consistent with our mission. For substantial studies, academic departments or other units should submit their requests in writing through the relevant Dean or Vice President.
  • We make commonly requested information available on our web site and generally will use the site to highlight information that may be broadly useful for planning, evaluation, assessment and decision making.
  • We keep logs of the reports, services, and assistance we provide, and we regularly assess our own effectiveness and solicit external feedback on how we may better meet the institutional planning, research and assessment needs of those we serve.