The art of the IPEDS comparison group

"Creating a comparison group is an art," observed Erez Lenchner, Senior Institutional Researcher at CUNY LaGuardia Community College and IPEDS trainer, during the IPEDS workshop at the 2016 Technology and Transfer Conference this July. 

Here are a few tips from the all-day session:

1. Don't go it alone.

Lenchner repeatedly emphasized the importance of working with others to determine an appropriate comparison group. "It should be a paricipatory process," he said.

Be sure to involve those who will be using the data in the process of selecting the appropriate comparison institutions. And get second opinions from your colleagues. Key administrative leaders should help select and affirm the appropriate comparison institutions.

Townhall meetings, shareholder websites, and virtual meetings are some ways to get the dialgoue going. Actively seek the input of any essential stakeholder who hasn't commented.

2. Create multiple, nuanced groups.

There's no need to have only one comparison group. Depending on your purposes, you may want mutliple generic comparison groups, as well as more specific groups for other purposes. For example:

  • Peer comparison groups, which are similar in role, scope or mission to your institution but not identical. 
  • Aspirational comparison groups, which are dissimilar but reflect characteristics that your home institution desires.
  • Competitor comparison groups, which compete with your institution for students, faculty and/or financial resources.
  • Predetermined groups, such as natural, traditional, jurisdictional or classification-based.

Once you've defined and used the groups, evaluate their usefulness and adjust accordingly. Ask "What is the strategic use of the comparison data? Did this comparison prove useful to the decision maker? Was the decision effective?" and refine your process based on the results.

Find more IPEDS resources here.