IR Shared Services…and meet our newest team member!


Institutional researchers first began working on college campuses after World War II, primarily to provide data within institutions for planning, decision making, and policy development. Generally stated, these IR staff were predominantly limited to larger, research-based colleges. Many smaller colleges, including vo-tech schools, functioned without these specialized staff due to their smaller sizes and more focused missions. However, as time passed – and especially over the past few decades – demands on institutional research (IR) in higher education have increased; most notably due to the increased demands for higher education accountability reporting to outside agencies. As demands have increased, institutions have had to likewise prioritize IR resources.

One such example is the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Founded in October 1979, by the 1980s the ED established the first federal requirements for institutional reporting. Originally reported by pencil and paper, the first data collections were limited to enrollment characteristics and graduations rates. Over time, advancement in technology changed how data was collected, analyzed, and reported. Today there are currently 13 required federal surveys that cover admissions, enrollment, student financial aid, finance, graduation rates, human resources, library services, and student outcomes. The carrot – or stick depending upon your point of view – for institutions to complete data collections is federal Title IV monies (i.e., student federal financial aid). In other words, if your institution does not provide the required data to the U.S. Department of Education, students attending will not be eligible to receive any federal student loans or grants. A very big carrot – or stick – indeed!

Altogether, this is why one critical role of an institutional researcher is to fulfill data reporting requirements for local, state and federal government agencies. From a federal standpoint alone, it was estimated that institutions of higher education spent nearly 1,000,000 hours completing required federal data collection surveys in 2015 (Laitinen, 2015). During that same year, the NDUS-IR department estimated that NDUS institutions spent 539 hours (or nearly 13.5 work weeks) completing federal surveys.

One way that the NDUS is assisting campuses with his reporting burden is the use of IR shared services. Under this design, the NDUS System Office has a department of five IR staff. Among other job duties, these staff members provide IR services to smaller campuses that may not have adequate IR staffing to handle agency reporting requirements. Shared services have proven to be an efficient and cost-effective means to ensure our institutions remain federally compliant.

Our most recent hire into the IR Shared Services team is Leigh Jacobs. Leigh Jacobs joined NDUS Core Technology Services as an Institutional Data Analyst in August of 2019. A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, he graduated from the University of Mary with a bachelor’s degree in Accounting before embarking on a career as an auditor. It was his role as a government compliance auditor that exposed him to data analytics. Learning how auditors were applying statistical analysis to Medicaid fraud detection helped him apply similar techniques to the field of oil and gas compliance auditing. He hopes to build on this foundation of data analytics throughout his career with the North Dakota University System. Along with the system office and the rest of the IR staff I would like to welcome Leigh to the NDUS-IR team.


Photo:  Leigh Jacobs, NDUS Data Analyst



Dr. Jennifer Weber is the Director of the NDUS-IR department.  Her primary functions are to oversee the department and provide system level enrollment reporting to the State Board of Higher Education.  She also oversees system wide IR Shared Services, works closely with the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) and serves as the state coordinator for federal reporting.   As the NDUS-IR is also contracted through the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) for data analysis and reporting, the department is ultimately responsible for the data of all students attending public institutions in the state of North Dakota, pre-kindergarten through graduate school.  Jennifer’s passion is educational data privacy, and her current efforts include producing guidelines and advisement for the roles and responsibilities of higher education when applying artificial intelligence/analytics to student data.