Institutional Research and SAS!


College campuses have emptied out as final exams are completed and commencement ceremonies have now passed.  But, in just a few short weeks campuses across the nation will be brimming with students, faculty and staff and the daily activities of a college campus will be in full swing once again.  Making everything operate efficiently at an institution of higher education is no small task.  In fact, the data about the institution are vital to helping these institutions drive planning and decision making.

Have you ever wondered how universities stay on top of what is going on, and more importantly, what will be going on in the future? The answer is..... The Office of Institutional Research.  Research conducted within an institution of higher education for the purpose of providing information for planning, policy formation, and decision making is called institutional research. This research can be distinguished from research in higher education whose purpose is the advancement of knowledge in higher education in general. Most accrediting agencies recognize the importance of institutional research and require that someone at the institution or system be responsible for institutional research functions. These functions can be centralized in one office or can be the responsibility of several offices. The size of the office of institutional research, in terms of people, depends upon the size of the institution and whether the functions are centralized or de-centralized.

It is my belief that this research is best conducted out of a centralized office with that office having sole responsibility for institutional research functions. In these situations, the office is usually designated as the source of official information for planning, policy formulation, and decision making. It is embarrassing to the institution for information to be coming from different sources and not being consistent with one another. Having one office as the official source of information increases the consistency of the information being reported both internally and externally.

For an office of institutional research to be successful, the information provided by this office must be timely and accurate. To accomplish the purposes and goals of institutional research, many offices of institutional research rely on SAS.  The roles and functions of an office of institutional research are dependent upon several factors, such as the number of staff members , their skills, is the institutional research function centralized, position of the office in the organizational structure of the institution, and budget constraints. However, regardless of these factors, there are certain tasks and roles that can be defined as institutional research responsibilities. Some of these are listed below and note how easily these can be performed using the SAS System.

  • Creation of a data management system for institutional research, this database is built by pulling data from several different transactional systems.
  • Producing standard reports for the institution on student and employee counts, enrollment management statistics, peer analysis, assessment analysis, budget analysis, and many others. These reports would have a standard format and be produced each year at approximately the same time.
  • Responding to external sources requesting information about the institution, these could be state and federal agencies.
  • Responding to multiple ad hoc requests for information in the form of surveys or detailed analysis of a particular topic.
  • Application of predictive modeling for enrollment, retention, financial projections, and many other areas in the institution.

As mentioned earlier, SAS is the tool chosen by many offices of institutional research to assist them in carrying out their responsibilities.  Offices of institutional research at Baylor University, University of Central Florida, Slippery Rock  University, and Western Kentucky University are a few of the offices that have made extensive use of SAS in performing their responsibilities.  Below are links to each of these offices, take a few minutes and look at the work these offices do with SAS!

If you are an institutional researcher and are interested in learning more about using SAS, contact the SAS Global Academic Program team at  We also attend several of the conferences for institutional research so look for the SAS Global Academic Program booth and stop by and see us.



About Author

Tom Bohannon

Dr. Tom R. Bohannon is an analytical consultant for SAS Institute specializing in applying analytical methods to business problems in industry and higher education. For the past three he has served also as a visiting professor in the statistics department at Texas A&M University. Before retiring from Baylor University in April of 2007, Bohannon was Director and Assistant Vice President for the Office of Institutional Research and Testing for twenty years. Prior to joining Baylor University, Bohannon spent ten years at Appalachian State University as an Associate Professor of mathematics and statistics, as the University Statistical Consultant, and as Director of Institutional Research. Dr. Bohannon has spent nearly 30 years in the institutional research field specializing in application of statistical methods to business problems in higher education. These applications include overseeing construction of data warehouses for Baylor University and applying data mining methods to enrollment management, retention, and fund raising. Dr. Bohannon earned a PhD in Statistics from Texas A & M University in 1976 and an MA in Mathematics from Wake Forest University in 1965. He also holds a BS in Mathematics with a Physics Minor from McNeese State University.

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