The Future of the Association of Higher Education Effectiveness by Cynthia Tweedell, Ph.D., Ohio Christian University

(The views expressed herein belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AHEE Board.)

Who would have thought we would be here in 2020?  A robust economy and healthy institutions are now struggling to survive.  The best planners couldn’t see this coming.  What have we learned from all this, and where do we go from here?

A decade or two ago, higher education institutions began to realize the need for useful data from which to plan for the future.  Entire departments of institutional research blossomed.  More and more accountability reports from governments and accreditors consumed much of our time.  But such research and reporting do not mean an institution is effective.

The Association for Higher Education Effectiveness (AHEE) was birthed from discussions regarding the difference between institutional research and institutional effectiveness.  We began to use the phrase “integrated institutional effectiveness (IIE)” to bring data from many siloed departments in the institution together in effective planning.  In the early days of the AHEE, we offered webinars and a listserve to promote the idea of IIE.

In 2020 a new AHEE board began to reconsider the purpose and future of the organization. We had over eight hundred people on our listserve, and we wondered what they expected from the organization.  The listserve was becoming very quiet, and we were wondering if we were meeting the needs of our constituents.  So, being good data scientists, we decided to survey our listserve.

The survey was launched in October 2020 with an email and one reminder to the listserve.  Unfortunately, there were only 53 responses.  Such low response rate may indicate a lack of interest in AHEE.  Many on the listserve may ignore the posts or feel it is not useful to them.  Nonetheless, the results are helpful to point the Board in possible directions for the future.

Participants seem most interested in learning how other institutions are organizing their offices of institutional effectiveness.  There are no models out there, so people seem to be looking for some guidance. AHEE’s previous research interviewing vice presidents of institutional effectiveness found a wide range of functions under the umbrella of “institutional effectiveness.” Indeed, the comments from participants of this survey expressed interest in a broad range of topics: methods of institutional research, data warehousing, assessment, and planning.

What kinds of communication do they prefer?  It appears our constituents are looking for webinars.  However, one impact of increased isolation in the “work-at-home” pandemic world is many of us have been deluged with webinar options.  One wonders if the world needs one more webinar offering related to institutional effectiveness. 

When asked to list challenges faced in their offices, participants frequently mentioned silos, communicating data, lack of institutional understanding of what they do, small offices, and time constraints. So it appears AHEE might do well to assist constituents in addressing the issues of small isolated offices trying to communicate the importance and implications of their data.

So, what have we learned, and where do we go from here?  It is important to note that institutions of higher learning are very stressed.  Many are reeling from recent enrollment losses.   Some are facing challenges in the switch from face-to-face to online modality. Budgets are getting cut, eliminating conference travel, and laying off personnel. There are fewer people with a budget to attend conferences.  More people are unemployed, looking for work. 

During this period of higher education stress, it is vital for those of us in institutional effectiveness to reinforce our value to the organization.  IE expertise extends to accreditation services, registrar, retention data, assessment, and all the planning to which these data contribute. Institutional Effectiveness professionals have the capacity to share the duties of positions reduced or removed.  As indicated by the wide range of topics suggested by our constituents, there is a clear opportunity to serve higher education by enabling institutional effectiveness people to be competent in many areas, thus providing more job security.

When AHEE first began seven years ago, we envisioned an organization that would provide conferences, webinars, and consulting for a fee.  Now it appears higher education institutions cannot afford to pay for our services, so we must offer them for free.  Meanwhile, new associations and consulting agencies are appearing.  Some are providing the same services we always envisioned for AHEE.  It would seem in these stressful times, some duplicative associations will be closing.  Will AHEE be one of them? This survey analysis has given us some direction that we will focus on, though we encourage our community to stay vocal and share with AHEE what you need to be successful:

  1. Provide a space to advertise new positions for those losing jobs, or wanted to be promoted.
  2. Hold a webinar on the management of the small office of IIE
  3. Hold webinars on different models of IIE
  4. Provide links to webinars on accreditation, retention, assessment, and planning.  This will help people diversify their skills to demonstrate their value to the organization.

Survey results follow:

Q1: Please indicate your level of interest in each of these possible topics from AHEE.

Answered: 53        Skipped: 0

Q2: How interested are you in the following means of communication from AHEE?

Answered: 53        Skipped: 0

Q3: What additional topics/activities would you like to see from AHEE?

Answered: 18        Skipped: 35

Q4: What websites and organizations do you go for primary assessment resources, news, and support?

Answered: 22        Skipped: 31

Q5: What websites and organizations do you go for primary Institutional Effectiveness resources, news, and support?

Answered: 26        Skipped: 27

Q6: What are your top 3 challenges in assuring institutional effectiveness at your institution?

Answered: 29        Skipped: 24