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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University August 4, 2003 | Vol. 32 No. 41
Digging for Data

As director of institutional research, Cathy Lebo's assignment is to gather, analyze and report Johns Hopkins-related data needed by both internal and external audiences.

A onetime archaeologist puts her skills to work documenting JHU

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins scholars study everything from stem cells and famine to the Silk Road trade and cosmological dust clouds. But who studies the university?

The answer is the Office of Institutional Research.

Established in January 2001, the office is responsible for data reporting, information analysis and the creation of a centralized warehouse of all relevant university facts and figures, for both internal and external use. Just a few questions for which the office seeks to have answers are: What is the faculty-to-student ratio? How many international students are enrolled in Johns Hopkins schools? Why do students change majors? Where do graduates get placed? And, how many students will be enrolled 10 years from now?

In addition to collecting all current demographic data on Johns Hopkins, the office gathers and analyzes information such as survey results, multiyear trends and data on peer institutions.

In June, Cathy Lebo was tapped to serve as the director of institutional research. Lebo, who until recently held a similar position at Southern Methodist University, said that her job, in essence, will be to know Johns Hopkins inside and out and to be able to put the university in context among the likes of a Stanford, Duke or Yale.

"The information people need is out there, in some form or another; it will be my job to put all the various pieces together. This office wants to cover all aspects of Johns Hopkins--students, faculty, staff, facilities, finance, you name it," said Lebo, who holds a doctorate in anthropology from Indiana University. "Broadly put, what institutional research is all about is serving the information needs of the university--in particular, the senior administrators--to provide the information they need to make decisions."

Lebo, who came to Johns Hopkins on June 17, builds upon the work of her predecessor, Ronni Haertig, the former director of institutional research, who left in fall 2002.

In her position, Lebo will report to Paula Burger, vice provost for academic affairs.

Burger said that the development of the Office of Institutional Research arose out of the ever-increasing reporting requirements on the part of funding sources and accreditation agencies, and the spiraling need for the university to promptly provide reliable and analyzed data to staff, state and federal government agencies and the general public.

Burger said that Johns Hopkins had been somewhat behind the curve in creating an office of institutional research, in that nearly all the university's peer institutions already had similar offices in place.

Prior to the creation in 2001 of the coordinator of institutional research position, the collection of universitywide data was done strictly on an ad hoc basis, according to Burger.

"Ironically, due to the decentralized nature of Johns Hopkins, it was perhaps even more critical that we have someone who plays this kind of role, that of being analytical about the university," she said. "Ronni Haertig started this effort; now Dr. Lebo will take it one step further. She brings with her an extremely fine skill set and a wonderful background in social science methodology. She understands statistics and how to analyze them and has a proven track record in both developing sophisticated surveys and analyzing them in all manner of ways."

Burger said that Johns Hopkins is regularly bombarded with requests for details about itself. For example, despite its private status, the university is routinely called upon by the state to provide information such as projected enrollment, number of employees and even what students' plans are postgraduation.

The Office of Institutional Research has a three-person staff, consisting of Lebo, an analyst and an administrative assistant.

Lebo said that her first few months on the job will be consumed with familiarizing herself with the university and helping prepare it for the upcoming accreditation review by the Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education.

"If what I do is study the institution, then certainly part of my assignment right out of the gate is to learn all about Johns Hopkins, to know the organization, the character of it, and to discover what the priorities are here," she said.

As for the accrediting process, the university will need to provide documentation that it is in compliance with a broad range of standards and that a system of institutional assessment is in place. The Middle States Association will look for evidence of outcomes, including retention and graduation rates, job placement and indications of student satisfaction.

Lebo, who also taught archaeology courses when she was at SMU, said she plans to spend the coming months gathering data and meeting with various staff members who themselves are "the keepers of information."

"Ours will be a team effort," she said. "I'm certainly not saying that this office will jump in and have the answers to every question. This is a large, decentralized and complex university; there are pieces of data scattered here and there, and I have to uncover them. This is the archaeology I have to do. Then I have to figure out how to manage it all."

To help in this regard, the office intends to develop a managed information system populated with a large data set. Lebo said preliminary plans are to design an internal Web site where relevant university information can be posted to assist offices that frequently find themselves fielding questions about various aspects of the university.

"Perhaps a year from now we'll be able to say, If you need an answer to a Johns Hopkins question, check with the Office of Institutional Research," she said. "Our first priority is for the office to be able to put basic, standardized information in the hands of people who need it."


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