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Frequently Asked Questions

Institutional research (IR) is defined broadly as a range of activities involving the collection, analysis and interpretation of information descriptive of an institution and its activities, including its students and staff, programs, management and operations. The findings of student research can assist institutional leaders through informing their planning and decision making as well a supporting institutional planning, policy formation, and decision making. Decision makers need to know about an institution, its educational objectives, goals and purposes, environmental factors, processes, and structures to more widely use its resources, more successfully attain its objectives and goals, and to demonstrate integrity and accountability in so doing. Therefore, the primary role of DSIR is to collect, analyze, and report data pertaining to a arrange of areas at APSU to give a historical perspective. DSIR is also involved with the systematic evaluation of educational programs, perceptions of students, faculty, alumni, and employers in order to assist in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the institution. The DSIR office also serve as the source for official institutional data.

Identify information needs – This functional area reflects this iterative process of identifying relevant stakeholders and their decision support needs. It includes anticipating questions though review of data, information, and research and policy studies, including those related to institutional, state, national, and international conversations around higher education. It also includes assisting stakeholders in developing and refining research questions.

Collect, analyze, interpret, and report data and information – This functional area reflects the technical tasks employed by institutional research to provide data, information, and analysis for decision support. It involves an understanding of the data available to answer pressing questions about student access and success and institutional operations and the process by which previously unavailable data are collected. The process of collecting and reporting required and requested data is encompassed in this area. This function also incorporates applied research methods to analyze data to provide information for decision making, including appropriate interpretation of analysis results.

Serve as stewards of data and information – This functional area highlights institutional research’s role in ensuring an institution-wide data strategy. Compliance issues such as privacy and security and ethical issues such as determining what data and information should be used for various purposes, and whether interpretations are correct and appropriately used, are also critical to this area. IR’s role in ensuring data are appropriately accessible and usable to those who need them to make decisions is inherent in this function as well.

Educate information producers, users, and consumers – This functional area encompasses the training and coaching related to the use of data, analysis, and information to inform decision making. Education can be focused on ensuring the ability to collect, access, analyze, and interpret information independently and in collaboration with other stakeholders. The function also includes a collaborative role in convening discussions related to information needs and connecting internal and external producers and users of data with one another for purposes of informing decision making. Scholarship to inform and improve data, information, and analysis for decision support is also included in this function.

DSIR posts an extensive library of current institutional information through its Institutional Data page. The information includes general and historical data about students such as, enrollment, student credit hour, demographic data, and degree completion, retention and graduation rates; about employees such as faculty FTE and employee demographics.

Furthermore, DSIR has developed various dashboards through Argos which provides data users with more specific, interactive reports. To learn how to access the dashboards, refer to the DSIR Report Reference Booklet

Information not available on the web site is available by request. To request specific data, please use the Information Request page. All requests should be made through the request form to insure they are processed in an efficient and timely manner.


When IR staff use the term “official,” they are referring to data that have been submitted to the Tennessee High Education Commission and/or the US Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data that are used for state and/or federal reporting are extracted at Census Date and End of Term during specific times of a term or year, and subsequently “frozen” or locked down. These official data are then used whenever possible to fill data requests, complete surveys, and create reports. There are times when operational (non-frozen or live) data are more appropriate for a specific purpose but reports generated using these data should not be expected to contain numbers matching those officially reported.


The Census is required by the federal government and is a specific date set by the institution on which it takes a “snapshot” of specific enrollment, credit hour, and course load data that are used for both state and federal government reporting. The Census is the time when the IR office captures its official data. There is a Census day for each term at APSU. For both fall and spring semesters, Census is the 14th day of classes.

As part of its mission, DSIR tracks and reports data for federal and state agencies, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Two important statistics used by these agencies include the retention rate and the graduation rate. To provide these statistics, APSU monitors all of the first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen entering APSU in the summer and fall in one year as a cohort, or a specially defined group of students sharing specific characteristics established for tracking purposes. The cohort does not include freshmen who were here in previous years and returned in fall 2010. Nor does it include freshmen who transfer from other institutions.

By going to the Data Dictionary on the DSIR website, users can find key data terms and their definitions.

What type of assistance does DSIR offer to other APSU departments or organizations?

Reporting Institutional Data – As your go-to source for official APSU data, DSIR routinely provides information about students, faculty, and other general APSU facts. Many question about enrollment, retention, and degrees awarded can be answered by our Factbook and Common Data Set as well as through our reports and dashboards.

Completing custom data requests and analysis – In addition to the standard external reporting of institutional data, DSIR also fields several requests for particular data and/or analytical information. Please submit a request through our Request Page.

Providing survey consultation and administration – DSIR also provides survey-related services, including consultation and survey administration. We work with our colleagues across campus to help meet their survey needs. Requests range from providing feedback on a draft survey instrument to helping design and administer the final survey. DSIR can also assist with the analysis of survey results if needed. Please contact through our service request if you need help designing, implementing, or scheduling your survey. DSIR also coordinates the administration of large university surveys to help minimize survey fatigue.

Several dashboards and reports can be accessed from the DSIR webpage. Institutional research staff are happy to provide demonstrations or training on any of these resources. To request a demonstration or training session, please go to our  Request Page.