Research Director

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Feb. 23, 1996

Hillard to Coordinate Institutional Research

By Jaime Larsen
UW-RF News Bureau

Political science department Chair Jan Hillard has been named to the new position of coordinator of Institutional Research.

The position was created as a result of the University's 5-year "Reach for the Future" initiative that is repositioning UW-RF for the next century as it faces the challenges of emerging technologies and reduced funding that are impacting the educational process.

The Reach for the Future initiative is designed to improve the University's ability to prepare students for the 21st century. The plan outlines many changes meant to arm students for a competitive, technologically advanced career world.

If the University is going to make changes, data must be gathered to provide a starting point, said Provost and Vice Chancellor Robert Milam. This requires three steps: the University must have the ability to compile the data that exists on campus; the information compiled must be credible; and it must be shared.

"The real thing we have to have is credible information before we can make intelligent decisions," Milam said. "As we go through the Reach for the Future process . . . it becomes apparent almost immediately that you have to have information."

In the past, UW-RF hasn't designated anyone to compile this information. Rather than having a centralized research office, individual administrative and academic departments have had to complete their own research or hire someone to complete it as needed.

"The data collection on this campus in the past has been somewhat inconsistent in that no one really had the responsibility for collecting and distributing data," said Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Virgil Nylander. "It really occurs in a number of different offices."

One of the most immediate concerns, according to Milam, is that data be compiled for the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits the University. NCA will be visiting UW-RF in April 1998, and data collected by the office of institutional research will help provide an overview of the University and its programs and services.

Hillard said his job will include analyzing trends involving both students and curriculum. In addition to preparing data for the NCA, Hillard stressed collecting data to determine retention and graduation rates. Being aware of present data and trends can guide the University in making improvements, he said.

"We're just making sure that we have good information to make well-informed decisions," Hillard said. "We're making a lot of decisions today with Reach for the Future, so we need a lot of information to support that."

While individual departments can compile this information on their own, the process is time-consuming, and gathering the data is often difficult.

Bill Campbell, director of grants and research, has faced this obstacle when applying for grants.

"Frequently when we've been working on grant proposals we've needed institutional research," Campbell said. "As things are now I have to go all over the place to find it."

Sometimes the data Campbell needs doesn't exist in a useful form, he said. Data is an especially important factor in applying for grants to help set up programs or implement new instruction methods.

"With those grants, institutional research is crucial," Campbell said.

Because of the large quantity of data that exists on campus, Hillard will have a big job.

Nylander outlined three important areas that must be addressed by the office: what data exists; what data faculty and staffneed; and a consistent method for analyzing this data so that results can be interpreted accurately.

Nylander added, however, that it will take time to collate all of the data that exists across the campus, and not everyone's needs can be met immediately.

According to Milam, Hillard will work on a half-time basis as institutional research coordinator.

"The office of institutional research will start functioning probably within the next 30 days," Milam said. "We expect to have it fully functional by the first of July."

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