TheCenter is a research enterprise focused on the competitive national context for major research universities. TheCenter’s work draws on the insight and recommendations of many colleagues throughout the country who contribute data, information, and perspective and TheCenter relies heavily on the initiative and insight of its advisory board. TheCenter’s major research and publication effort falls within the The Lombardi Program on Measuring University Performance, an activity supported by a generous gift from Mr. Lewis M. Schott.

Over more than a decade, TheCenter’s staff developed a variety of methods for measuring and improving university performance. Originally developed to guide improvement at the University of Florida during the 1990s and later adapted to different institutional contexts at UmassAmherst and the University at Buffalo, the effectiveness of these techniques brought national attention and a commitment to translate the methodology from particular implementations at various universities to a general data drive perspective applicable to any research university.

TheCenter’s annual report, The Top American Research Universities, offers analysis and data useful for understanding American research university performance. TheCenter classifies universities into groups in accord with nine institutional characteristics. Institutions that have federal research expenditures as reported to NSF of at least $20 million and that fall within the top 25 on at least one of the nine measures fall into TheCenter’s definition of the top research universities. The Top American Research Universities annual publication also provides an on-going analytical discussion of topics related to research university performance and provides a comprehensive set of data on over 600 institutions.

Drawing on the experience of developing an institution specific series called Measuring University Performance, TheCenter’s program of research studies focus on critical elements of university management. TheCenter’s staff also has a keen interest in management variables, for it is clear that well managed institutions can extract significantly greater marginal revenue from existing resources. Other studies seek to understand relationships that affect resource acquisition. TheCenter publishes a series of papers on topics related to its mission, and develops many of these themes in the text portion of The Top American Research Universities .

TheCenter has a particular interest in the question of incentives and rewards. Universities exist in a controlled, regulated, and often isolated economic space within which pricing and production decisions do not occur in clearly defined ways. This inhibits our understanding of the university’s economic structure and often defeats efforts to reward the outstanding performance of individuals or academic units. Active markets may affect only parts of the institution: top research faculty salaries, faculty clinical physician compensation, patent and license revenue to individual inventors, and salaries for football coaches. The rest of the institution–teaching faculty, regular research faculty, and most of the administrative staff–live in unionized or civil service environments with few measures of productivity or quality and a weak market for their services outside the institution.

Absent markets and measures of performance, institutions tend to provide across the board increments to most employees, thereby eliminating rewards and incentives for improved performance.

TheCenter’s data and analysis have attracted considerable attention around the country, and TheCenter (with support from the GTE Foundation) has participated with a number of institutions and individuals in the United States and abroad in discussions about incentive and reward systems that lead to improved university performance. In a current research project, TheCenter focuses on the development of methods and data for the analysis of university budgets for a clear, comparative understanding of the critical investment decisions that lead to research university success and improvement.

Members of TheCenter staff have offered and continue to offer a graduate course (Managing Universities) on these issues in an effort to disseminate the analytical techniques and with the expectation that the critical discussions in this seminar format course will refine and challenge the assumptions and data.