A well-researched list of peer schools can serve an institution well. This is the second of two articles in which we talk about how to create a list of peer schools and then how to use that list effectively.

In my last post I mentioned two specific reports ATS member schools receive each year. They are the Strategic Information Report, and the Institutional Peer Profile Report. The data is based on the Annual Report Forms which schools complete each fall. In addition to those reports, ATS publishes the Annual Data Tables, which consists of data about all schools within ATS.

In the first part of this series, we looked at at one way you can develop a list of peer schools. Today we are going to look at how we can use this list of schools to educate our boards, enhance our institutions, and develop peer-learning relationships for the advancement of the kingdom.

Get an IPPR

The first valuable use for a set of peers is the creation of an IPPR. Each year, the President/CEO of each member school is emailed an Institutional Peer Profile Report (IPPR). The IPPR provides comparisons of annual data and the requesting schools gets to identify the peer institutions to be used in the report. If you have never seen your school’s IPPR, then I would encourage you to ask your president/CEO for a copy of it.

The schools to which your school is compared are requested by your institution. If you would like to change that list of schools, you will simply need to make that request on the Annual Report Form. However, if you would like a different set of schools AND you have already received the IPPR, you can request additional IPPRs at a cost of $100 per profile.

Now that you have your list of peers based on the work you did in part one of this series, you can find out if you need a new IPPR or if the one you currently have will work.

Develop Relationships

Now that you have the list of peers, you also have a list of schools with which you could develop a relationship. In my experience many schools are looking for “conversation partners” who are willing to share and learn. Contact the schools on your list and tell them what you are doing. If you are the CFO at your institution, ask to speak to the CFO at their institution. Get the presidents on the phone together. You may be surprised to find the schools on your list are looking to have conversations about many of the same topics. Strong relationships with peers can be edifying and great sources of insight.

Educate the Board

The Board of a seminary is asked to make decisions on the strategic direction of an institution and data can provide clarity. Where does your school fit in relation to the industry or this set of peers? What can you learn from the data which will help the Board? You gathered the list for specific reasons. Share those reasons with the Board. Providing data which explains the stream in which your institution is swimming can prove to be very valuable.

Strategic Planning

Data gathering from the IPPR and conversations with peers can be very helpful when looking at strategy because it adds context to a conversation.  For instance, if a board or leadership team is having conversations about tuition pricing or changing the model of tuition at a school, it may be helpful to see what a set of similar schools is doing. Likewise, many schools have had conversations about residential facilities. Would it be beneficial to know what similar schools are doing and the reasons for those choices? Did one of the schools on your list experience a shift in enrollment that is different than the rest of the group? Why did that happen? Your Board and leadership team are better served when they have data which provides context.

Share and Refine Data

By necessity, the ATS Annual Data Tables provide a general high-level picture of schools. The IPPR drills down deeper, but is still limited to specific types of analysis because the report forms must work for the “industry” as a whole. Once you have developed a list of peers and cultivated relationships, you can begin to share additional data as well as refine the data you already possess. For instance, you may want more detail about the specific make up of a school’s development team. You cannot get that data from the IPPR, but you can use the IPPR to start a conversation with a specific school. You may even find it helpful to gather more data related to development. In addition, while talking with the schools on your list you may find that they would like to include your school on their next IPPR. Because each school knows the other will be using the data provided on the Annual Report Forms, you may find that more effort is used when completing the forms which will refine the data.

These are only five of many ways to use a list of peers. How would you use a list of peers? What other value could you pull from a list of similar schools? How could it inform your strategic planning and institutional evaluation?

Examples

Over the past few years, Gary Hoag and I have worked together on two peer studies – one related to advancement and the other related to enrollment. Gary has “led the charge” and does a lot of work when it comes to analyzing the data. The studies have been very beneficial and the schools have learned much from each other. In addition, I have developed two sets of peers for Northern Seminary. We get two IPPRs each year and the list of peers on each report is different. One is based on budget and includes only independent evangelical schools. The other includes a smattering of schools, most of whom are larger than Northern. The budget/evangelical list has been helpful when gathering data for trends at schools our size.