More than just graphs and charts

Drew Parker

Thomas Yantek, an associate professor of political science at Kent State, wanted to compile data on grade inflation at the university last year. Unable to access the data himself, Yantek contacted Kent State’s department of Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness for several years of grade data.

“I used RPIE to access data about grade inflation, a growing habit on many college campuses,” Yantek said. “I found that Kent was typical with the rest of the country in that our grades are greatly inflated, meaning most students get A’s or B’s.”

Yantek said RPIE gave him access to organized and understandable data.

“I used my RPIE to report the data to my colleagues,” Yantek said. “I didn’t know much about the data RPIE has before my study, but I think it is something many departments on campus could use.”

RPIE analyzes data to discover different planning techniques to improve the policies and effectiveness of all departments at Kent State. On a regular basis, RPIE provides analysis of university issues, assistance with departmental and university accreditation, official university data to external agencies and other universities and colleges.

The department also compiles and publishes 15-day enrollment statistics and graduation rates to the university and public in an easy-to-read format.

Nestled behind the Exploratory Advising Center in Lake Hall, the department’s offices may be invisible to most Kent State students.

RPIE Director Wayne Schneider said although the department does not have regular contact with students, it affects their daily lives.

“We provide information to help people make decisions that impact students, and we have a key role in helping people understand and relate meanings to numbers,” Schneider said. “We don’t talk to students often, but everything we do touches a student.”

Schneider said an average day at RPIE consists of working with federal and state data, answering external surveys, accreditation processes and answering various requests over the phone. He said everyone from students to instructors to the president’s office makes requests for RPIE data.

Mike Sperko, Institutional Data and Information Director for RPIE, spends his work day collecting data from various departments on campus and ensuring that it is consistent and correct.

He said most data sets RPIE analyzes come from Kent State’s Information Technology Systems, while others come from banner, university registrars and various other locations on campus.

“Its important to have consistent info coming from one source and the department plays a vital role of providing and protecting the university’s data,” Sperko said. “RPIE is one entity that is able to understand and interpret all the data for the university.”

Kjera Melton, institutional research informational officer for RPIE, said sometimes students ask for information the department does not track or keep.

“I’ve been asked if we track how many students are dismissed for nonacademic reasons, number of deceased students and how many children students have,” Melton said. “We don’t track any information related to students’ personal lives, health records or criminal records.”

Melton said RPIE’s analyses help the student body as a whole by working with other departments. For example, in 2009, the department found that students have better retention rates if they are enrolled with 15 or more credit hours, which is the opposite of what many faculty opinions had been before the data was released, Melton said.

“By this academic year advisors across campus were encouraging students to take the 15 [or more credit] hours, raising retention rates,” she said. “This wouldn’t have happened without the dialogue between departments.”

Contact Drew Parker at [email protected].