Sarah Parsons—A Power in Purpose Profile 

Sarah Parsons as Director of Institutional Research at Westminster finds the power in purpose of relevant and accurate data about the College’s students, faculty, staff, classes and learning outcomes. Her findings are used by Westminster’s senior leadership in making decisions and in the strategic planning of the College.

She also collects and reports the information government bodies require for compliance purposes and provides the information to college guide publishers that do assessments, comparisons, and rankings of American colleges and universities.

In addition, the information she has collected becomes a valuable resource when certain aspects of the college are being disseminated to the public in college publications or media sources.

“Data analysis is playing a big role in the changing landscape of higher education in several ways,” says Parsons. “With college tuition and fees rising, students and parents are paying more attention to outcomes like graduation and job placement rates to get the best value from a college education. Administrators and faculty are also using data analysis to help improve their curricula, policy-making and planning. This ensures that students receive the highest quality of education possible.”

Next month, Sarah will be quite pleased when she receives her Ph.D. in Public Affairs from the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri.

“I am excited about this accomplishment,” says Parsons. “I am very appreciative of my family and co-workers, who have been encouraging and supportive as I finish my dissertation.”

The thesis of Parson’s dissertation was three essays on special education placement in early childhood and K-12 education. The focus of her research is school-based interventions for disadvantaged children.

Federal law requires free appropriate education be offered to children with disabilities. Parson’s dissertation examines how characteristics of children, households, teachers and policy parameters are associated with special education placement.

Her findings in the dissertation confirm that minority children are less likely than their white peers to enter special education and more likely to leave special education placement. Settings outside school such as preschool and medical care may help to identify children with disabilities who would qualify for special education services. She also finds special education placement rates are responsive to changes in education funding.

Originally from the Kansas City area, Parsons also holds a master’s degree and bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri.

Previous to her work at Westminster, Parsons was an instructor  of introductory and college algebra at the Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City for several years.  Prior to that, she taught high school in the Kansas City area and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda.

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