Governance decision: who are your peer and aspirational schools?

In higher education, a peer school is another institution that seems roughly equivalent to your school. For the overall institution, peer schools are often “cross-admit” schools. A “cross-admit school” means that applicants your institution accepts are also accepted by the other school, and students choose roughly equally whether to go to your school or the cross-admit school.

An aspirational school is a school that’s where you want to be–aspirational schools represent the general characteristics of the desired future state for your institution’s strategic goals.

Peer and aspirational schools can be defined for the overall institution, but they can also be defined on a college-by-college basis–or a department-by-department basis.

Consider having IT governance, as a governance decision, define your peer and aspirational schools for Information Technology.

Peer and aspirational schools are no substitute for a strategy and vision. Comparing yourself to what others are currently doing doesn’t help you do things no one is doing. Also, your peer and aspirational schools may not be doing the right things.

But without defined peer and aspirational schools, IT compares itself (and IT’s consumers compare IT) haphazardly to other schools. IT may compare itself to the University of Michigan; IT’s consumers might compare it to the Lone Star College System. (Both schools have well-developed IT, but their approach, the level of decentralization, and the focus on IT-enabled teaching vs. research may be very different. They are not comparable.)

Higher education also works unusually closely across institutions, and by defining peer and aspirational IT schools you create a more stable basis for building relationships between schools.

Again, peer and aspirational schools are not the end-all be-all for IT benchmarking and planning, but in defining peer and aspirational IT schools you can have a structured “meta-discussion” about IT expectations without anyone specifically discussing your institution’s IT department. If members of the governance groups have different sets of peer schools, this is a great time to understand why the schools are different and clarify what people are looking for in IT.