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KPI Basics:

A “KPI” is a Key Performance Indicator, or in other words something that we can track or measure.  An example of a KPI in higher education is Student-to-Faculty Ratio.  This is a number, that varies from year to year, that represents the number of faculty that work at the University compared to the number of students enrolled at the University.  Many say that this key ratio represents the quality of teaching in a University.  The idea is that students are better off if there are more faculty members working there.  Students will get more attention, there will be more choices in terms of classes, and there will be more opportunities for collaboration or advising with faculty.  Most, if not all, universities track this ratio, and therefore it also provides an easy method to compare universities to each other.  This type of KPI can be easily measured and tracked with data that the university already tracks within their administrative systems.  Some KPI’s can be tracked with external data, such as surveys.  In the US, we have the National Survey for Student Engagement,, where this central organization distributes surveys to students, collects the information, and then provides assessments and feedback to the university.  KPI’s can be used to determine changes within the university or to compare with a group of peer universities.  

Who uses KPI’s?

I have seen KPI’s used in varying degrees by different universities.  Of course, most universities are required to track some KPI's for external compliance purposes as well as internal management.  KPI tracking is often a part of a Performance Management initiative, where the university wants to standardize on a broad set of metrics across all areas of the organization.  In other words, they want to go from sporadic pockets of KPI tracking (perhaps in spreadsheets/offline systems), to formally establishing KPI's, setting targets for each KPI, and benchmarking against peers - across all colleges/departments and using data directly based on administrative system sources.  Sometimes, the “drive to measurement” starts with a new Provost or President, who has effectively used KPI’s before. 

Any discussion of KPI's should be tempered with some reality.  KPI's cannot possibly encapsulate every different angle that is important to each constituent of a university.  Even if we equip a car with the latest gadgetry and on-board computers, we will still need a driver to decide where we are going and to get us there safely.  KPI's and performance management systems can be effective tools, but they still require the right people to translate the results into the right course of actions. 

KPI Examples in Higher Education:

Here is a pretty good list of KPI’s that I have gathered from speaking and meeting with various universities.  Hopefully this will be useful for you, and I welcome your thoughts about KPI’s in Higher Education.  I have also posted these on a new wiki page, so you can navigate there and add more KPI's.

I have structured the KPI's so they fall under a perspective and then an objective. 


Academic Perspective




Student Success: Recruit, retain, graduate the best students














































Provide Quality Academic Programs and Support Services














Attract and retain outstanding faculty/staff


Student Recruitment Metrics:


Freshman Inquiries


Freshman   Conversion


Freshman   Applications


Freshman   Selectivity


Freshman Accepted


Freshman Yield


Freshman Enrolled


SAT/ACT Score   Quality


 Top 10% Rank in Class


Discount Rate


 % of Financial Need Met


Graduation Metrics:  


Degrees Conferred


% of Students   Gaining Employment within x months


Retention Metrics:


4-Year Graduation   Rate


5-Year Graduation   Rate


6-Year Graduation   Rate


1-year Retention   Rate


Graduate Student Metrics:


# of Research   Assistants


GRE Quantitative   Score




%   of Course Sections with an enrollment of 20 or less


%   of Course Sections with an enrollment of 50 or more


Passing   Rate for National Licenses or Exams (e.g. Nursing, Pharmacy, Law, etc)


Academic   Support Spending per Student Headcount


Instructional   Spending per Student Headcount


Student   Participation in Study Abroad


Faculty-to-Student   Ratio




Average   Faculty Salary and Benefits


Employee   Satisfaction


Faculty   Tenure Rate


Number   of Endowed chairs and professorships


Staff   Turnover Rate


Staff   participation in central HR training


Financial Perspective




Optimize Expenditures










Advancement and Endowment








Remain Compliant




Administration   Spending per Student


Departments   exceeding budget


Number of   Financial Shadow Systems


Complete all   capital projects on-time




Average Alumni   Giving Rate


% of Campaign   Goal Pledged


% of Campaign   Goal Collected


Endowment per   Student Headcount




A-21 Audit   Findings


Cost of   compliance as % of budget


Laboratory Safety   Violations


OFAC Compliance   Violations


Time to close   fiscal year (in weeks)


Violations of   OSHA, HFPA, BOCA, NRC, and FDA




Research Perspective




Increase Funded Research










Provide Adequate Research Facilities






Increase Faculty Scholarly Activities




Contracts   and Grants Funding Awarded


NIH   Grants Funding Awarded


Number   of Patents Issued


Proposal   Success Rate




New   Lab space available for research


Laboratory   Safety Violations


Sq   Ft of Incubator Space




Members   of National Academies


Number   of publications or performances in national outlets


#   of Tenured Faculty


Campus and Community Perspective




Improve Campus Life












Support Integrity and Service to Community






Support superior athletics










Promote and Enhance   Sustainability


#   of Public Safety Officers


Campus   Wireless Network Coverage


NSSE   Supportive Campus Environment


Number   of Students graduating late due to course availability




Community   Perception Survey Score


Funding   for Public Services Initiatives


Student   Awareness of Code of Ethics




Graduation   Rate for Freshman Student athletes


Placement   in Directors Cup


 Student Participation Rate in Intramural   Athletics or  Sports Clubs




Reduce   CO2 Emissions to Target


%   of Space LEED Certified


%   Spend with "Sustainable" Vendors