Institutional Research

IR Definitions

Definitions of terms commonly used by Institutional Research

Some of the terms used by IR staff are unique to the field of applied research in higher education. Others are not exactly unique to IR but do carry a specific meaning in the context of Institutional Research.

When a definition contains a word in CAPITAL LETTERS it indicates that the list contains a definition for that word also.

Note: In the definitions below, IR refers to the Institutional Research Department at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), not the field of institutional research in general.


Data or information that can be acted upon and doesn't simply provide subjective information. A statistic like "92% of new students thought Quick Connect was useful " is of limited use to IR compared to "When a student completes Quick Connect and then meets with an advisor to pick classes, they are statistically more likely to pass all classes and return the following year."


Refers to the various methods used to uncover trends and relationships in a dataset.

Annualized FTE

Summer, Fall and Spring FTEs (end of term) divided by two.


Any factor affecting the research that isn't part of the design.   Example: Data that is self-entered by respondents can be biased by the respondent's age or English aptitude.

Budget Related

Enrollments that qualify for State funding.


In IR, the term is used specifically to mean that when one variable moves (for example, the number of hours a student studies increases), it makes another variable increase or decrease by a certain, measured amount.


A business intelligence system designed to support the reporting of institutional data.  Cognos works with Banner data to facilitate standardized reporting, allow ad hoc report creation, and provide scheduled reporting for intuitional efficiencies.

COGNOS User Types

Every user type has the ability to run and view reports, but the needs for specific tools varies across campus, and SLCC has a limited number of each of the three license types:

Consumer User- The most common, and least expensive, license type allows users to run and view the reports that are used most often at the College. When a user with this type of license needs additional data or statistics, they submit a DATA REQUEST FORM to IR.

Advanced User - Features the same functions as the consumer user, but allows the creation of common-types of queries and report writing. There are a total of 29 users at SLCC.

Professional - With only 12 users, this license contains features that allow dashboard creation, complex joins, and changes to the SLCC database.


A type of dataset displaying information from a single point in time—in contrast to a time-series dataset.

Data (aka Dataset)

A collection of quantitative information on a particular subject.

Data Request Form

In October 2012, IR developed this simple, but detailed, form significantly improved the efficiency of data requests, and quickly became the sole method by which data requests are handled by IR. As a web-based form on the IR homepage, it serves two important purposes: 1) it helps requestors clearly provide the information needed to supply their data, and 2) has the secondary benefit of being a detailed record of who is using what types of student data.


Typically a computer server containing a large collection of data/information from the various parts of the college.

Difference (aka statistical difference or meaningful difference)

The point when two values are so far apart that the chances of them being related, or of them having the same underlying characteristics, are lower than what one could reasonably expect to occur randomly. Most disciplines use either 95% or 99% accuracy as the indicator of statistical difference in a test, but the overall accuracy increases exponentially when unrelated tests finds the same results. Example: An instructor teaches two sections of the same course back to back, but he only requires students in the second section to bring the textbook to class. At the end of the term he finds that that the 7 students in the first class had an average grade of 81.4%, while the 8 students in the second section who brought the book to class had an average score of 82.3%. A statistical test would determine that no meaningful difference between the scores can be established because the samples are small and the values too close together.

Fact Book

Official historical information related to SLCC.  Data includes: student enrollment, student demographics, faculty/staff information, degrees and awards, financial information, facilities, student input, and non-credit.

Facts at Your Fingertips

Quick fact brochure of the most recent data related to SLCC.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act exists to protect the rights of students and their families with regard to the information stored in their school records. IR fully complies with FERPA, and retains records of all data requests. Please see our DATA REQUEST FORM page for more information.

Focus Group

A qualitative research method where a small group of participants discuss a common experience with a researcher in a controlled setting. The method is an effective way to learn the "why" of something observed in a quantitative analysis, and to add subjective depth to quantitative reports.


As a unit of measurement, one FTE (Full Time Equivalent) equals 15 credit hours.

Gold Papers

Our school-color version of the traditional "white paper" but shorter and often hypothesis driven.

Graduating Student Survey

One of three ongoing, annual surveys given by IR to a particular category of SLCC students. In this case, any student who has graduated in the preceding 12 months.


In IR, we use the term to mean the underlying question or assumption our research is trying to ask. Such as "Does taking LE 1020 increase the chances of student success?"

Informed consent

When a participant agrees to voluntarily provide their information for a study after being given information on the uses of the data, the source of funding, and the possible risks from participation.


Any research tool that facilitates part of the research process. Examples of instruments used in IR are self-administered surveys, pre- and post-tests, and rubrics.


Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System is a survey involving annual institutional-level data collection.  Data includes:  institutional characteristics, 12 month enrollment, completions, Human Resources, fall enrollment, graduation rates (GRS), finance, and student financial aid (SFA).


Institutional Review Board. See the tab on the left of the page for a full discussion.

Literature Review

Refers to the process of searching for, reading, evaluating and synthesizing published research on a given topic. The process of reviewing the methodology and findings of similar studies, and critically reviewing the most current research on a topic is an important step in an IR analysis. Example: before designing a survey, a literature review should be conducted to learn what was and what wasn’t useful in previous studies of similar topics.


Another term for the “average.” A measure of central tendency used with interval-level data. Outliers can skew the value, so the median value might be given instead of the mean to indicate an average or middle-most value.


National Community Benchmark Project is a comprehensive national data collection and reporting consortium designed for 2 year colleges.

New Student Survey

One of three ongoing, annual surveys given by IR to a particular category of students. In this case, all first time students enrolled in their first semester.

Non-Returning Student Survey

One of three ongoing, annual surveys given by IR to a particular category of students. In this case, students who were enrolled Fall semester but didn't enroll the following Spring term.

Online Course Evaluations

The old system of paper-based end-of-term course evaluations was expensive, wasteful, and susceptible to sampling error. SLCC was part of a national trend where colleges and universities began adopting standardized, online evaluation, only to see their efficiency increase, but their participation rate decrease. Schools chose to either return to paper, accept the lower rate of participation, or identify an intervention technique that would be successful on their campus. SLCC chose the latter and the details can be read in GOLD PAPER #2.

Panel Study

A research method that follows the same group over time, periodically collecting information from them.

Primary Data

Data gathered directly from respondents to answer a specific question.

Raw Data

A spreadsheet containing every respondent and each of their responses. For example, instructors are sent the STATISTICS summary for their course evaluations, but the raw data containing the individual responses from each student are not released.


Refers to refers to a collection of statistical techniques that model a relationship between two or more variables. It is a way to estimate how much the independent variable (or variables) influences the dependent variable.


When two or more variables move at the same time (as opposed to CAUSED, where the movement of one variable makes the other variable move). Mistaking "related" for "caused" is a common error and, interestingly enough, is the source of myths like storks bringing babies.


When samples or data are representative, the findings can be generalized to a larger group or population the sample was drawn from. Example: a survey of 5,000 SLCC students would not be representative if the surveys were only administered to students at one campus.


In IR, this term is used exclusively to denote the process of using the rigors of the scientific method to obtain unbiased, ACTIONABLE information.


As a verb, it is the process by which PRIMARY DATA is gathered for analysis. As a noun, it denotes the data collected from a larger population.

Sample Size

The sample size (denoted as n) is the number of individual sources of information in a study. Along with standard deviation, it is one of the least understood elements of empirical research. Some useful facts about sample size: there is no minimum number needed for a reliable study; larger samples are not necessarily better; the ideal sample size for a study depends more on the answers given than on the questions asked.

Secondary Data

Data gathered previously, often by a different researcher using it to inform a previous topic, and then used to inform research at a later date. The US Census is a common source of secondary data.


Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. A computer program used to analyze quantitative data. Originally designed with statistical tests used social science, it’s use expanded in the late 1990’s to business, physical science, data-mining, and bootstrapping.

Statistics (noun)

When someone asks IR for the "number of students that..." or "the percentage of female graduates who..." they are provided with statistics. As opposed to a spreadsheet containing RAW DATA, statistics is quantitative summary information. Example: The FACT BOOK is full of useful statistics on many elements of the institution.

Statistics (process)

IR uses mathematical models and computer simulations to measure or predict changes at the institution, in a division, program, student club, or even in a single class. There are hundreds of possible statistical procedures used by IR to produce ACTIONABLE data or to address a HYPOTHESIS or a request made by faculty or staff. In cases where the results are needed by faculty or staff for a professional study, grant or in-house report, or is to serve as the basis for a change in policy or procedure, any observed STATISTICAL DIFFERENCE is always tested and verified again using a different, unrelated statistical procedure, and then typically retested and verified at least once or twice more with unrelated tests each time.


A standardized set of questions used to gather information from a large group.


An instrument or procedure used in IR to accept or reject a hypothesis.


A type of dataset displaying information over a specified period of time—in contrast to a cross-sectional dataset. For example, a study examining student satisfaction for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 would utilize a time-series dataset.


The Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) is a nationally funded project designed to develop a set of appropriate measures to determine how well community colleges are serving students.