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Graduate Certificate in
Institutional 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, assessment, and evaluation, and the integration of strategic planning with institutional finance.

Application deadline

Apply by June 15 to start August 21

Credits and costs

15 Credits $1,007 per credit

Demand Increases for Trained Institutional Research Professionals

Institutional researchers provide quantitative and qualitative information and analysis services that support academic planning, decision-making, accreditation, and assessment for academic institutions, while also maintaining reporting requirements for external agencies and organizations.

If you are a higher education professional who wants to enter this field, Penn State’s online Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research program can help you develop the skills you need to support institutional planning and policy formation and methodologies and research practices.

Institutional Research at Penn State

The Penn State Higher Education program has partnered with World Campus to offer you an entirely online and accredited Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research program. The curriculum includes topics such as research design, assessment and evaluation, and the integration of strategic planning with institutional finance.

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.

Who Should Apply?

Enrolling in this program can greatly benefit you if you are an in-career professional, institutional researcher, or graduate student or are employed in a related field.


The graduate certificate program in institutional research is a 15-credit program designed to provide students with the skills that support institutional planning and policy formation. Enrolling in this program can greatly benefit in-career professionals, institutional researchers, graduate students, and persons employed in related fields. 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.

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.

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.

2022–23 Academic Year Rates

How many credits do you plan to take per semester? Cost
11 or fewer $1,007 per credit
12 or more $12,082 per semester

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.

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.

How to Apply

Deadlines and Important Dates

Your degree application, including receipt of all transcripts, should be received by the following deadline to be considered complete.

  • Fall DeadlineApply by June 15 to start August 21
  • Spring DeadlineApply by October 15 to start January 8
  • Summer DeadlineApply by February 15, 2024, to start May 13, 2024

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact our admissions counselors.

Admission Requirements

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.

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 elective, and 6 of the 15 credits may be transferred from other institutions.

What You Need

Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. 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 — including your career goals, background, etc., limited to one page

Technical Requirements 

Review the technical requirements for this program.

Ready to Learn More?

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

Apply by June 15 to start August 21. How to Apply

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 

A Head Start toward a Master’s Degree

A figure standing halfway up a set of stairs leading towards a graduation cap

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  

Contact Us

To learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Institutional Research, offered in partnership with the Penn State College of Education, please contact:

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

Karen Paulson
Lead Faculty, Higher Education
The Pennsylvania State University
Email: [email protected]



  • 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 21. How to Apply