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30 April 2008

Jacksonville State University OIRA Hosts 22nd Annual ALAIR Conference


Institutional research professionals from throughout the state gathered at JSU’s Houston Cole Library on April 3-4 for the Alabama Association for Institutional Research’s (ALAIR) 22nd annual conference, hosted by the JSU Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.


This year’s theme was “A Breath of Fresh AIR,” and for the roughly 90 attendees, visiting the University at this time of year offered ample opportunity. Participants not only gathered the freshest developments in institutional research, they had the chance to take in the spectacular spring view from the twelfth floor observation deck of the Library and enjoy some live music provided by the JSU Jazz Combo during the opening “meet and greet” reception.


Keynotes for the conference were Dr. Brian Noland, state higher education executive officer for West Virginia; and Dr. Gregory Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.


Noland spoke at the Friday morning general session on the elements of the policy agenda for higher education. On a framework of six established public purposes of higher education-- access, equity, affordability, quality, public service, research and economic development, he outlined the evolving role of higher education and the current top challenges facing academe in a data-driven Power Point presentation. The most important issues according to Noland:


• Price of tuition, including the public versus private nature of higher education, focus on affordability, the burden of tuition/fees and student debt in what he called the “shifting sands of higher education finance,” the Spellings Commission and federal calls for tuition protection, and the need to link policy mechanisms;


• Student Aid Policy, in particular the complications in federal policy, focus on workforce needs through Academic Competitiveness Grants and SMART grants, institutional aid and competition, lack of focus on the needs of adult and part-time students and the student loan crisis;


• Access and Success including pressures from minority, low-income and emerging populations such as non-traditional, first generation, distance education, transfer and adult students;


• Accountability and Student Learning, specifically the Spellings Commission findings regarding objective and equal measurement and reporting of student learning across states;


• Tax Policy, including federal protections such as the Hope and lifetime learning tax credits;


America’s global competitiveness and scientific research; and


• Aligning Educational Goals for PK-20, specifically student preparation, curricula alignment, remediation challenges, teacher education and professional development, cultural aspects and merit scholarships.


In addition to Noland, about 18 other IR professionals conducted workshops and presentations covering a number of timely subjects, including IPEDS race/ethnicity changes, internal movement and attrition by college and major, writing S.M.A.R.T. student learning outcomes, readying for SACS-COC Reaffirmation, updates on the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education’s data warehouse project, as well as discussions about Banner implementation and the Alabama Statewide Student Database Reports, to name just a few. JSU’s own Dr. Alicia Simmons, director of institutional research and assessment, and Mr. Omer Minhas, coordinator of institutional research, were among the presenters with their session entitled “Decision Making and Analytics with Tableau Software.”


Former JSU Dean of Admissions and Records Dr. Jerry Smith, now a regional director for the National Student Clearinghouse, presented and also sponsored a booth. Other vendor-presenters were Mr. Pat Rohde of Dataliant and Dr. Joe Marks of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).


At the ALAIR business meeting held in conjunction with the closing luncheon, members approved the nomination of ALAIR officers for 2008-2009 including that of Dr. Alicia Simmons, director of the JSU Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, who will serve as the president-elect.


From left, JSU retirees Al Searway, Jerry Smith and Tim Smith visit with Alicia Simmons, director, JSU Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, at the 22nd annual conference of the Alabama Association for Institutional Research on April 3, 2008 at Houston Cole Library.

JSU President Bill Meehan and former JSU Dean of Admissions and Records Jerry Smith catch up on the news from the University during the April 3-4, 2008 ALAIR conference at the Houston Cole Library. Smith is now a representative with National Student Clearinghouse and was in town to present to the gathering.

Dr. Bill Meehan recognizes charter members of ALAIR at the general session. Charter members standing are, from left: Dr. Harriott Calhoun, Jefferson State Community College; Billy Hughes, University of Alabama; Sam Lowther, Auburn University; and Dr. Glenna Brown, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

ALAIR conference attendees discuss Banner implementation during a breakout session.

Photos by Angie Finley

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