Pacific Lutheran University Comparison Institutions

Categories and Purposes of Institutional Comparison Lists

In order to best serve the needs of the University at large, different comparison group configurations may be required. The University recognizes a formal set of ten comparable peer institutions, and maintains a larger list of similar, but less tightly matched peers. In addition we recognize and support the use of specific competitive and aspirational institution lists that may be unique to particular groups and projects. The following operational definitions guide the development and use of such lists.

Comparable Peer Institutions are those peers identified as overall most similar to PLU on the key indicators described below. This is the University’s primary peer group that is used for NWCCU Student Achievement purposes. Whenever possible and appropriate, this list should be used for the purposes of identifying peer(s) for program review.

Competitive Institutions are defined as those colleges and universities that compete for students and resources will be used as appropriate by select PLU constituents.  These lists should be shared with Institutional Research and Records. This includes lists that might be generated by consultants who are hired to provide external perspectives on various elements of our operations.

Aspirational Institutions may be defined as needed by PLU constituents in order to drive reflection and improvements. Aspirational lists should be submitted to Institutional Research and Records when used.

National data (aggregate) will be used as a barometer for progress in mission fulfillment when needed. National peer comparisons may be filtered (e.g. by Carnegie classification) to provide a clearer picture for comparison purposes. 

Process for Determining Institutional Peers

An initial broad list of peer institutions was generated from previous lists used in analysis of competitor schools, survey result comparisons (ex. National Survey of Student Engagement – NSSE), IPEDS benchmarking via the Data Feedback Report (DFR), and regional associations (ex. Independent Colleges of Washington – ICW). This list of nearly 50 institutions was discussed and reduced to 27 after consideration of salient variables.

Using IPEDS data (2017-2019), a quantitative comparative analysis was done of the 27 institutions comparable to PLU on 54 metrics from categories of enrollment, demographics, retention/graduation, student finances/aid, and institutional finances. Some examples include

    • Enrollment – undergraduate, new-first year, graduate as a percent of undergraduate, FTE
    • Demographics – percent of: students of color, women, out-of-state residents
    • Retention/Graduation – first-year retention rate, 4/6 year graduation rates
    • Student finances/aid – tuition, total price, net price, discount rate, percent of students with aid
    • Institutional finances – endowment, FTE, expenses/revenues per FTE, salaries

With PLU as the basis, schools were compared using an absolute difference on each metric. The top ten were flagged in each comparison and the ten institutions with the most occurrences were identified as PLU’s primary peer institutions.

Pacific Lutheran University Comparable Peer List

    • Augsburg University – Minneapolis, MN
    • California Lutheran University – Thousand Oaks, CA
    • Capital University – Columbus, OH
    • Carthage College – Kenosha, WI
    • Hamline University – Saint Paul, MN
    • Pacific University – Forest Grove, OR
    • University of Redlands – Redlands, CA
    • Seattle Pacific University – Seattle, WA
    • Valparaiso University – Valparaiso, IN
    • Whitworth University – Spokane, WA

Regular Review of Institutional Comparison Lists

The Comparable Institutions Peer List will be reviewed annually by a working group with representation from all major divisions of the university.  This review will be convened by the Office of Institutional Research. In addition, any Competitive Lists or Aspirational Lists used by internal constituents during the previous year will be cataloged and reviewed for the purpose of informing future comparison groupings.