Marsh surveys the data scene at Princeton
By Ruth Stevens
Princeton NJ -- How many freshmen considering a major in English actually graduate with a concentration in that discipline? What is the student-to-faculty ratio at Princeton? Who approves the use of human subjects in surveys?
Jed Marsh finds himself immersed in these and other questions about the University every day. Marsh, who came to Princeton as associate provost in spring 2002, was promoted this past summer to vice provost for institutional research. His job is to compile information to help the University's administrative decision-makers, to coordinate institutional survey participation and to assist with institutional data requests.
Marsh said one of his biggest challenges in his new position is locating the different sources of information and bringing the various pieces together.
He's learning about some of these sources firsthand, as he gathers data for President Shirley M. Tilghman and Provost Amy Gutmann to guide their planning efforts. Recently, he's been looking at the distribution of majors across campus and trying to spot trends.
"The approach has been somewhat novel," Marsh said. "I've tried to link major selection back to proposed major at admission. For example, we might look at students who thought they'd like to major in English when they applied. Did they stay in English or go to chemical engineering? If so, how many students went? Is there a flow between chemical engineering and English?"
Marsh explained that about 40 percent of juniors and seniors at Princeton are concentrated in five majors (for the list of the most popular majors, see "By the numbers" on page 2). "Many departments would like to increase the number of majors that they have," he said. "This study might help us to identify some strategies."
He also has been involved in planning efforts for the pending increase in the student body. Beginning in fall 2006, there will be phased-in growth in the number of undergraduates to approximately 5,000. Marsh has been working with Registrar Joseph Greenberg and Vice Provost for Research and Physical Planning Al Sinisgalli to project the likely impact of the increase on classroom utilization. They have been looking at whether the University has the right number and size of classrooms to handle the influx.
"Jed's work in anticipating our classroom needs is essential to planning for the additional 500 students," Gutmann said. "Moreover, his broad-ranging institutional research on many important issues offers us far better data and access to essential information than we have had before."
Marsh also has been trying to get a handle on who is being surveyed on campus, how often and by whom. And, once survey results are compiled, he's working to ensure that information is shared with the appropriate departments. "Survey results often don't get the distribution among the administration that they merit," he said.
Until now, requests to conduct surveys and to complete surveys would come into the University and land on desks in a variety of offices, from the registrar to admission to financial aid. "My goal is to provide a central place where people from outside the University can go to get the information about the University they need," he said.
He has formed a Survey Planning Group comprising University staff members who are likely to know about survey requests. People across campus are starting to inform him when they get requests and checking with him on sources of information.
Marsh earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology from Northwestern University and was associate dean of the Graduate School there for four years before coming to Princeton. He developed surveys tracking doctoral student placement and graduate student satisfaction. The student enrollment and retention models he devised have been used in the school's financial aid planning.
Facts and figures galore
Since beginning his work in institutional research at Princeton, Marsh has been compiling a sizeable collection of facts and figures about the University from a variety of sources. He's sharing many of his findings with the University community through an institutional research Web page that is a link off the provost's office site.
On the page <www.princeton.edu/~provost/research.html> are links to "Information About Princeton University." This page lists statistics ranging from enrollment data to the Princeton Profile, an online version of the book published each year. By clicking on "enrollment data" and going to the registrar's site, users can find the Common Data Set that contains facts such as the student to faculty ratio (5-to-1).
The institutional research page also links to useful resources in the field, such as the National Center for Educational Statistics, and to the site of Princeton's Institutional Review Panel, which considers the use of human subjects in research.
"Ultimately, I hope to build a data guide -- a central repository that will have enrollment numbers, admission data and more," Marsh said. "There are questions we need to work out as far as access. It would augment the Common Data Set, so that people could get 'self-serve' answers to their questions online and so we don't need to keep asking the same questions."
He also intends to build a survey inventory, posting on the Web a calendar of major surveys likely to occur in the next year. "We'd like to coordinate some of the survey work around campus so that we don't have competing efforts going on at the same time. We have had some significant overlaps. Surveying populations too frequently can result in 'survey fatigue' and invalid sampling."
For more information on Marsh's work in institutional research, contact him at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.