People are the core of any successful strategic planning effort, and WT 125 will be no different. WT 125 will only be successful if all stakeholders, including external partners, faculty, staff, and students, engage in productive conversations about what the University has been, currently is, and wants to become. Personal experiences and individual perspectives will drive these conversations within the various Theme Groups, ultimately uniting into a collective voice that will guide the University for a generation to come.
However, introspection alone will not accomplish the lofty task of establishing a vision for West Texas A&M University at its quasquicentennial. We must also consider WTAMU’s position in comparison to other institutions. Some of these institutions will be very similar to WTAMU in many ways, while others will have already achieved levels of success to which WTAMU aspires in the decades ahead.
The following narrative provides an overview of a process of identifying three groups of peer institutions to which the University will be compared during WT 125. The groups, which include comparison peers, aspirant peers, and geographic peers, are distinctive in their composition and function within the strategic planning process. These sets of institutions will serve as the basis for benchmarking WTAMU’s progress toward achieving the goals and performance indicators that will be defined during the WT 125 planning process. Some of the data points used to create the peer groups are included in the pages that follow and are intended to generate discussion and reflection within the various Theme Groups.
The Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Data, and Analytics at WTAMU conducted a months-long analytical study to identify which institutions should be considered for inclusion in the WT 125 peer groups. The primary data source for this analysis was the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) (https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Default.aspx). IPEDS, which is updated annually, includes data for more than 7,000 institutions and is the de facto data source for inter-institutional comparisons.
An initial IPEDS query of data from the 2014-2015 academic year resulted in a data set that included 373 institutions and 215 variables for consideration in the peer analysis. The first phase of data analysis reduced the sample to 215 institutions and 99 variables that were included in subsequent analyses. These variables represented many aspects of the University, including admissions, student completions, enrollment, faculty and staff, financial information, institutional characteristics, and student success.
The first group of peers to be determined was the Comparison Peer group. Comparison Peers are those institutions that are most similar to WTAMU across the many variables included in this study. Institutions in the Comparison Peer group had to be classified as a Master’s College and University by The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education during the most recent reclassification cycle (2015). The Master’s Colleges and Universities designation is given to those institutions that award at least 50 master’s degrees and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees during the update year for Carnegie reclassification. There are three levels of Master’s institutions: larger programs (at least 200master’s degrees awarded during 2013-2014), medium programs (100-199 master’s degrees awarded during 2013-2014), and smaller programs (50-99 master’s degrees awarded during 2013-2014). WTAMU is considered a Master’s larger program institution. All institutions in the Comparison Peer analysis also had to be public universities with an enrollment between 5,000 and 20,000 students. For the Comparison Peer analysis, University leadership excluded Texas institutions from consideration.
Two analytical techniques were used to create the Comparison Peer group: cluster analysis and nearest neighbor proximity index score analysis. Results of the two analyses were compared to determine which institutions were classified as peers in both analyses. A list of institutions was submitted to the WT 125 Steering Committee and the Deans Council for qualitative discussions about each of the recommended institutions. Following extensive discussion by both groups, 15 institutions were selected for inclusion as Comparison Peers. The list of Comparison Peers can be viewed on page 5.7, accompanied by data slides on pages 5.9-5.35 of this section.
As is the case with Comparison Peers, Aspirant Peer institutions are similar to the target institutions (WTAMU) across many measures of institutional quality. However, Aspirant Peers have distinctive characteristics on key performance measures that distinguish those institutions from the target institution (WTAMU). These characteristics provide targets to which WTAMU aspires in the future. These key metrics are typically outcome-oriented, such as higher persistence and graduation rates, greater levels of institutional efficiency, etc.
For WT 125, the key characteristic for potential Aspirant Peers was being reclassified from Master’s University status to Doctoral University status during either the 2010 or the 2015 Carnegie reclassification cycles. In order to achieve Doctoral University status within the Carnegie system, an institution must have awarded at least 20 doctoral degrees during the update year for Carnegie reclassification. Carnegie then classifies Doctoral Universities in one of three research productivity categories: moderate research activity, higher research activity, and highest research activity. There were 334 Doctoral Universities across all institution types (public, private, for-profit) following the 2015 reclassification cycle. There were 112 moderate research institutions, 107 higher research institutions, and 116 highest research institutions included in the last reclassification. Carnegie Classification is an important institutional characteristic within the WT 125 strategic planning process, as attaining Doctoral University status is one of the desired long-term outcomes for WTAMU.
The first step in creating an Aspirant Peer group was to identify which universities had made the jump from Master’s University status to Doctoral University status in one of the last two Carnegie reclassification cycles. As with the Comparison Peer analysis, University leadership excluded Texas institutions from consideration for Aspirant Peers. An initial analysis of Carnegie Classification data showed there were 21 institutions that met this initial criterion. While this change in Carnegie classification was an important feature, all Doctoral Universities with moderate or higher research activity were included in an analysis similar to the proximity index score method that was used with the Comparison Peer identification process. This aspirant index method identified institutions that should be considered as Aspirant Peers for WTAMU across the same variables used in the Comparison Peer analyses. Institutions reclassified from Master’s to Doctoral Universities were weighted more heavily than established Doctoral Universities. However, a mixture of reclassified institutions, established institutions, and Deans Council recommended institutions were submitted for consideration by the WT 125 Steering Committee and Deans Council. Following substantive discussion about the suggested Aspirant Peers, this group of peers was narrowed to 10 institutions. The list of Aspirant Peers can be viewed on page 5.37, accompanied by data slides on pages 5.39-5.66 of this section.
The original intent of the peer-group analysis was to identify a set of Comparison Peers and a set of Aspirant Peers. However, members of the Deans Council expressed strong interest in also having a set of regional peers that included institutions within Texas and surrounding states. The initial step in this analysis was to sort the data set used in the other two peer analyses by state affiliation, limiting the data to institutions in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Institutions included in either the Comparison Peer or Aspirant Peer groups were removed from consideration as Geographic Peers. The remaining set of 29 institutions, which included both Master’s Universities and Doctoral Universities, was submitted for consideration by the WT 125 Steering Committee and Deans Council. Qualitative discussions resulted in 15 institutions being included as Geographic Peers, with 11 of the 15 institutions located in Texas. The list of Geographic Peers can be viewed on page 5.68, accompanied by data slides on pages 5.70-5.97 of this section.
This introduction and overview is intended to provide a brief summary of the processes used to create peer groups for WT 125. Creating peer groups is as much a science as it is an art. While analytics can narrow the scope of institutions under consideration, it has been the qualitative knowledge of professionals at WTAMU that ultimately determined which institutions were included as Comparison Peers, Aspirant Peers, and Geographic Peers.
As was the case during on-campus conversations about peers, some of the institutions included on these peer lists will likely come as a surprise. We are products of our own experiences and perceptions. We encourage you to review the lists of peers and data points with a healthy skepticism, as was the case with the members of the WT 125 Steering Committee and Deans Council. As you review the data visualizations that accompany each peer group, we hope that you will see that the institutions selected for each peer group make sense from an analytical perspective, even if they are not necessarily institutions that we would typically consider to be peers of WTAMU.
We also anticipate that the data included will provide fodder for conversations within Theme Groups, and will likely result in the need for more data to consider. We welcome and encourage those requests for data. Each Theme Group has a designated on-campus “Resource” person whose role will be to identify and provide additional resources that the Theme Group has requested. This includes data. For all WT 125 data requests, we ask that the Resource member of the Theme Group send an email to WT125@wtamu.edu that details what data are needed by which Theme Group. We will respond to data requests quickly as possible.