University of Pittsburgh Benchmarking Activities

In 2003, the University adopted its currents set of peer and aspirational peer institutions as well as metrics against which it would measure progress toward key goals. Based on similarity of mission, student characteristics, academic program offerings, geographic location, and rankings on key metrics, the peer institutions were selected. Aspirational peer institutions were universities similar in scope to the University of Pittsburgh but were superior on key university benchmarks (see Figure 1, University Benchmarks 2002–11).

These metrics were chosen because they are useful indicators of performance among American research universities. In addition, relevant data for peer and aspirational peer institutions could be readily obtained, making it possible to gauge performance at any given point in time and rates of change over time across institutions. Similar benchmarking strategies were adopted by the regional campuses, which identified separate peer and aspirational peer institutions and metrics relevant to their unique missions and scopes. Over time, this strategy has been implemented at all levels of the University.

In 2006, the benchmarking processas refined to generate an annual “academic scorecard,” which summarizes the University’s standing relative to peer and aspirational peer institutions and explicitly highlights annual progress on 41 key strategic indicators organized under six goals linked to the mission of the University (see Figure 2, Academic Scorecard 2011). These annual scorecards provide a valuable snapshot of the University’s most recent performance and also indicate how it is progressing from year to year in comparison with its identified peer and aspirational peer institutions. This information, used reflectively, can point out areas in which the University is doing well and areas in which it needs to work for improvement.

Data generated through the benchmarking process serve important functions for planning and resource allocation purposes. They provide operational measures for assessing progress toward achieving University goals, provide the information for communication of the University’s criteria for success to the University community and external constituents, and serve as checkpoints for strategic planning. Each year, these data are disseminated in a variety of forms to University administrators; faculty; and external constituents, such as University alumni. The University Planning and Budgeting Committee annually reviews these data to identify key areas for financial investment.

Benchmarking data have provided the raw materials that helped to shape University policies. For example, it was recognized that annual total research dollars provided an important measure for gauging the University’s progress toward becoming a leading research institution. In fiscal year 2001, total research and development (R&D) expenditures were $349 million, compared to a mean amount of $418 million reported by our aspirational peers. By fiscal year 2009, however, R&D expenditures had increased to $623 million, ranking only slightly below the mean of the University’s aspirational peers. Achieving success in obtaining external funding requires both talented faculty members and a state-of-the-art research infrastructure to support their work. New policies were promoted to ensure an appropriate faculty talent pool, including recruitment strategies that emphasize both teaching and research potential, tenure and promotion guidelines that reward a faculty member’s ability to generate external research support, support for developing the ability to identify funding sources and secure funding, and financial incentives for obtaining external funding in those academic areas in which research is driven by external resources.

Although efforts to close the gap between Pitt and aspirational peers with respect to research funding have been largely successful, the benchmarking process also highlighted areas in which Pitt could improve. One important area the University has been focusing on is overall diversity. Benchmarking shows that domestic diverse and international students combined constitute 17 percent of the undergraduate population on the Pittsburgh campus, a level the University would like to increase. While Pitt has been competitive with Association of American Universities institutions in African American recruitment, it has not been as successful in a broader diversity effort, due in part to the demographics of Western Pennsylvania. In response to this challenge, the University has instituted a number of programs to expand recruitment and retention of other demographic groups on its campuses. For example, on the recruitment side, the Pittsburgh campus set a goal of doubling its international student enrollment, and one strategy will be to use the International Student Barometer to benchmark information about international students’ perceptions and expectations. The campus also created Global Links, which is a program to support integration, retention, and academic success of international students. Other new retention programs for underrepresented undergraduates on the Pittsburgh campus include Partners in Progress in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School ofArts and Sciences and the Pitt EXCEL Program in the Swanson School of Engineering.