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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Identifying "peer institutions"

One of the blessings/curses of higher education is that we occasionally have to identify "peer institutions" for one reason or another. Our accrediting agency likes "aspirational peers"--institutions we'd like to be like. For other purposes, institutions "more like" us are better. Institutionally, we went through this exercies 5 or 6 years ago, at the end of which our Board of Trustees (which had asked--well, demanded--that we do this) essentially said, "Just joking," and the project got dropped.

In my program, we have had to go through the exercise once again, at the behest of our accrediting agency. So we did, trying to identify mid-sized (3000 - 9000), urban, commuter schools with relatively low (less than 1100) SATS for entering students, with fairly high percentages of students eligible for Pell grants, and a fairly high percentage of minority students. Oh, and graduation rates higher, but not excessively higher, than ours. I don't know if the institutions we picked (UMichigan Dearborn, UMichigan Flint, IndU Southeast, IndU South Bend, Rutgers-Camdem, Cal State Bakersfield, New Jersey City U) really represent aspirational peers. But we'll see. I admit to being skeptical of the value of all this.

This is, as most of us in higher ed know, almost entirely a public-sector thing. GM doesn't really need to ask who its peer institutions are--they compete directly with them, and, if GM's getting its brains beat out, knows who's doing it. In the caseof my institution, we compete with none of out peer institutions, but we do compete with neighboring public (and private) schools, both in my own state and just across the state line. We know what they're doing. But none of those institutions are on our list of peers. We don't aspire to be them, I guess.


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