Leveraging IR Intellectual Diversity: Institutional Research and Higher Learning Commission Peer Review


Diversity is one of the most rewarding aspects of Institutional Research higher education work. This diversity comes in a variety of forms; from academic disciplines comprising educational preparation, to our primary employment responsibilities promoting education quality through effective data use, and opportunities for contributing to the larger higher education landscape.

Our educational backgrounds shape the perspectives we bring into our work, while our professional roles often ask us to apply knowledge and skills more generally. As a case in point, my academic discipline background in History, Political Science, and Education informs how I approach tasks, while wide ranging professional responsibilities have shaped the scope of tasks assigned and research questions explored. These are among the factors making Institutional Research a truly exciting field.

One of the truly rewarding aspects of my professional work has been membership in the Higher Learning Commission Peer Review Corps. Similar to the Institutional Research field, Peer Review Corps members span a vast array of educational disciplines and professional roles. The Peer Review Corps position description encourages those interested in serving to “Note any prior experience with institutional evaluation and assessment, team leadership, facilitation skills, financial oversight, or other skills relevant to successful service as a peer reviewer”. Many of us in Institutional Research perform some of these tasks as part of our work, perhaps lending us to be described as “institutional generalists”. Indeed, the roles of assessment, accountability, and accreditation, that could form the “Three A’s of IR”, form important parts of my professional experience and converge in Peer Review Corps efforts to advance educational quality.

An important part of Peer Review Corps membership involves participating in training opportunities, including the Annual Conference. As is typically the case, this year’s Annual Conference featured a full-day pre-conference session dedicated to Peer Review Corps training including general session topics such as federal policy discussions and changes to the Criteria for Accreditation in upcoming year. Breakout session topics included interpreting financial statements, identifying and using evidence in making team report recommendations, substantive change processes, and sessions providing certification in review of contractual arrangements between institutions and third-party providers and on HLC visits incorporating outside agencies. Last year, I attended training sessions for reviewing multiple locations / branch campuses and competency-based education / direct assessment reviews.

General Program sessions at the Annual Conference included focusing upon emotional intelligence in leadership and enhancing social mobility in higher education by helping students feel that they belong, deserve an opportunity, and can succeed. Breakout session topics included utilizing various data sources to form interactive visualizations, Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) use for public reporting in Minnesota, developing visualizations through artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, progress toward development of a new heuristic student success framework, and an institutional response to a cybersecurity data breach. I also attended a session upon Dual Credit / Concurrent Enrollment quality initiatives supported through the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) which I worked closely with in a previous role coordinating a Dual Credit program.

Institutional Research professionals are well-positioned to leverage diverse educational backgrounds and professional work experiences in a wide variety of ways, including as members of the Higher Learning Commission Peer Review Corps. Serving on the Peer Review Corps provides a unique opportunity to learn and contribute to the future of higher education. I believe others would find Peer Review Corps participation as rewarding as I have.


   Dr. Gregory Carlson is an Institutional Researcher – Special Projects with the North Dakota University System. Working closely with the Department of Public Instruction and Information Technology Department, primary responsibilities include project management, data framing, and ensuring compliance with requirements for statewide K-12 public school Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) accountability reporting through the Insights interactive public dashboards. He assists in addressing accountability data questions from education stakeholders and facilitating use of educational data to facilitate continuous improvement of student learning within North Dakota’s public K-12 schools.