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Graduate Certificate inInstitutional Research

Program summary

Develop the research and analysis skills needed to support institutional planning and policy formation. The curriculum includes topics such as research design, program assessment and evaluation, and the integration of strategic planning with institutional finance.

100% Online

Complete your Penn State course work at your own pace and 100% online.

Application deadline

Apply by June 15 to start August 26

Credits and costs

15 Credits$1,017 per credit

Gain Skills to Support Institutional Planning and Policy Formation

  • Gain data-collection and technical skills to provide quantitative and qualitative information and analysis services that support academic planning, decision-making, accreditation, and assessment for academic institutions.

  • Apply “issues intelligence” within a higher education context to address institutional research needs.

  • Manage institutional research requests and assess the necessary involvement of both internal and external role groups while maintaining reporting obligations for external agencies and organizations.

  • Review data and related graphs/figures presented at meetings and to the broader higher education community, and question assumptions made.

Institutional Research Courses

This 15-credit institutional research certificate program is designed to provide you with the analytical skills to make data-driven decisions to support institutional planning and policy formation. The curriculum includes topics such as research design, program assessment and evaluation, and the integration of strategic planning with institutional finance.

You can choose to take the courses for the certificate entirely online or by traditional means at Penn State University Park. In addition, individual online courses will be open on a space-available basis to those who are seeking to upgrade their skills but do not wish to complete the entire certificate program.

There are two required courses — HI ED 801: Foundations and Fundamentals of Institutional Research and HI ED 830: Designing Institutional Research Studies; however, credit may be given for appropriate academic and research experience. All other courses are electives, and 6 of the 15 credits may be transferred from other institutions.

Required Courses (6 credits)

  • 3

    Explores concepts, methodologies and research practices that support campus decision-making: national data sets, planning and budgeting, enrollment management and enrollment forecasting, faculty studies and instructional analysis, institutional effectiveness and accreditation, educational effectiveness and student outcomes assessment.

  • 3

    Teaches best practices and necessary skills in quantitative and qualitative research design, including sampling and basic measurement issues, research methods, survey research, interviews, focus groups, and selecting appropriate statistical tools.

Professional Electives (select 9 credits)

  • 3

    Provides a working knowledge of strategic planning and resource management in higher education, especially in terms of pragmatic skills and decision-support tools relevant to institutional researchers.

  • 3

    Examines institutional effectiveness: evaluating academic programs, assessing student learning outcomes, coping with accountability and accreditation demands. Assessment topics include studies of students' basic skills, general education, knowledge in the major, personal growth, and alumni studies.

    • 3

      This course gives students an overview of administrative leadership within higher education institutions. Students learn about organizational structure, governance, leadership, decision-making, internal and external constituencies, culture, resources, and organizational change. Brief discussions of key organizational theories are included, but the course primarily focuses on administrative practice.

      • Note

        For doctoral or master's students who are taking courses residentially, HIED 842 can be substituted with HIED 552.

    • or:

      Numerous scholars, over many years, have explored a wide array of topics about college students — their preparation for college, their generalized and particularized characteristics, their behaviors in college, their attitudes about social issues, their relative success in achieving learning outcomes, their engagement (or lack thereof) with various components of the collegiate learning experience, their persistence, and the list goes on and on.

      • Note

        For doctoral or master's students who are taking courses residentially, HIED 846 can be substituted with HIED 556.

  • 3

    Topics include measuring faculty workload, evaluating faculty research productivity, the uses and misuses of student ratings, assessment for promotion and tenure, and methodologies for conducting salary studies.

  • 3

    Studies the three stages of enrollment management: (1) Pre-admission (attracting, admitting, and enrolling students), (2) The Initial Student Experience (orientation, advisement, curricular access, and student support services), (3) Student Success (persistence, academic achievement, graduation, and employment).

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Start or Advance Your Career

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You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Career Opportunities for Graduates

Many career paths exist for trained institutional research professionals. In addition to working for an academic institution, you can follow a career path in finance, accrediting associations, state governments in the department of education, or private consulting firms that provide research assistance to institutions that lack institutional research offices.

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

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From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Ready to Learn More?

Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.

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Learn more about this program

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by June 15 to start August 26. How to Apply 

Costs and Financial Aid

Learn about this program's tuition, fees, scholarship opportunities, grants, payment options, and military benefits.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Paying for Your Certificate

Students pursuing a certificate are considered "nondegree," a status that is not eligible for federal student aid, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program. A private alternative loan may be an option to consider.

Additionally, Penn State offers many ways to pay for your education, including an installment plan and third-party payments. Penn State World Campus also offers an Employer Reimbursement and Tuition Deferment Plan. Learn more about the options for paying for your education.

Students pursuing a degree and meeting all other eligibility requirements may qualify for financial aid.

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

A Head Start toward a Master’s Degree

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Not only can this program help create opportunities in your career, it can also give you a solid head start toward a full master’s degree.

Degree Program Related to This Certificate

Some or all credits earned for this certificate can be applied to the following Penn State World Campus degree program:

Gain the practical skills you need for a successful career in postsecondary education. This online degree program is part of a higher education curriculum at Penn State that has been training professionals in the industry for more than 50 years.

Learn more about the Master of Education in Higher Education

Who Should Apply?

This online certificate program can greatly benefit students who are institutional researchers, graduate students, or working professionals in a related field.

Act 48–Approved

Penn State is an Act 48–approved provider for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses for the Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research may count toward professional development hours.

Set Your Own Pace

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Whether you are looking to finish your program as quickly as possible or balance your studies with your busy life, Penn State World Campus can help you achieve your education goals. Many students take one or two courses per semester.

Our online courses typically follow a 12- to 15-week semester cycle, and there are three semesters per year (spring, summer, and fall). If you plan to take a heavy course load, you should expect your course work to be your primary focus and discuss your schedule with your academic adviser. 

To Finish Your Certificate in One Year

  • Take 2 courses each semester 

To Finish Your Certificate in Two Years

  • Take 1 course each semester


Convenient Online Format

This program's convenient online format gives you the flexibility you need to study around your busy schedule. You can skip the lengthy commute without sacrificing the quality of your education and prepare yourself for more rewarding career opportunities without leaving your home.

A Trusted Leader in Online Education

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Penn State has a history of more than 100 years of distance education, and World Campus has been a leader in online learning for more than two decades. Our online learning environment offers the same quality education that our students experience on campus.

How to Apply to Penn State

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Apply by June 15 to start August 26

Application Instructions

Deadlines and Important Dates

Complete your application and submit all required materials by the appropriate deadline. Your deadline will depend on the semester you plan to start your courses.

  • Fall Deadline

    Apply by June 15 to start August 26
  • Spring Deadline

    Apply by October 15 to start January 13
  • Summer Deadline

    Apply by February 15, 2025, to start May 19, 2025

Steps to Apply

  1. For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

    Admissions preference may be given to those holding master's and doctoral degrees. Those holding bachelor's degrees and appropriate graduate course work should also apply.

  2. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

    Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed — Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

    English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

    Reference (1) — You will need to initiate the process through the online application by entering the name, email address, and mailing address of one reference. Upon submission of your application, an email will be sent to your reference requesting they complete a brief online recommendation regarding your commitment for success in an online program. Please inform them that they must submit the form in order for your application to be complete.  

    Program-Specific Questions/Materials

    Résumé — Upload your résumé to the online application

    Personal Statement — Limited to one page, including your career goals, background, etc.

  3. To begin the online application, you will need a Penn State account.

    Create a New Penn State Account

    If you have any problems during this process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

    Please note: Former Penn State students may not need to complete the admissions application or create a new Penn State account. Please visit our Returning Students page for instructions.

  4. You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

    • Choose Enrollment Type: "Certificate Admission"
    • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus

    Checking Your Status 
    You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form. 

    Technical Requirements  
    Review the technical requirements for this program.

  5. 5. Complete the application.

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact an admissions counselor at [email protected].

Contact Us

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Have questions or want more information? We're happy to talk.

To learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research, please contact:

World Campus Admissions Counselors
Phone: 814-863-5386
[email protected]

Lead Faculty, Higher Education
The Pennsylvania State University
[email protected]

Learn from the Best

The Penn State Higher Education Program in the College of Education has partnered with World Campus to offer you an entirely online and accredited Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research program.


  • Allie Goldstein

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Higher Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      M.A., Postsecondary Educational Leadership with emphasis in Student Affairs, San Diego State University
    • Degree
      B.A., Communications, State University of New York at Buffalo

    Dr. Allie Goldstein is an assistant professor for the higher education program offered through Penn State World Campus. Her research, which focuses on online education, examines how predominantly residential institutions can create engagement opportunities and affinity-building activities for their online students.

  • Karen Paulson

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Higher Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      M.S., Metallurgical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Degree
      M.S., Administration, Higher and Continuing Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • Degree
      B.S., Ceramic Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Dr. Karen Paulson is a professor and coordinator of online programs for the higher education program. She came to Penn State in September 2015 after 19 years of working with state and institutional policymakers at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in Boulder, Colorado. Her areas of expertise include assessment, evaluation, accreditation, and the use of data. She has worked at nearly 60 postsecondary institutions and in 45 states.

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by June 15 to start August 26. How to Apply