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Important Notes

The work here is all mine; my wife tells me I occasionally make mistakes.

This is for informational purposes only, and although I believe what's represented here reflects the original data, there may be errors in my calculation or visualization, or in the original data itself.  I almost always link to the data source, and there are often disclaimers there, too.  Be sure to check them out.

Don't make any bar bets--or worse--strategic planning decisions based on what you read here without verifying the information for yourself.

This blog uses data from several sources.  Each has advantages and limitations.

IPEDS: The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.  I mostly use the IPEDS Data Center. Colleges and Universities that receive Title IV funding are required to submit data annually to IPEDS, which means you can find information on almost any college you're interested in.  Unfortunately, the data is not adjudicated, and it's obvious that the surveys for some smaller colleges are completed by people who don't understand the business or the information system they're using.

Additionally, surveys lag reality; the enrollment data for fall 2013, for instance, won't be available until sometime in summer or fall 2014 (in a good year); finance and financial aid are a year behind that.

Newbies to IPEDS find the site hard to work with, and I agree.  But overall, the amount and quality of data makes the effort worth it.

NCES Digest of Education Statistics: I first found this resource in the mid-1990's and it has saved my bacon a couple of times.  Good, summarized, and often longitudinal data about all levels of education in the US. These are pre-formatted reports (designed to be printed) and are nothing short of horrible to use with a data tool.  But when the information is good, it's worth it, even though you'll probably spend 95% of your time just getting the data right and clean.

College Board Trends in Higher Education: Good, summarized data on a wide variety of topics including pricing, aid, access, and outcomes.  Compiled from reliable sources by good data people, this information is usually downloadable in Excel but has some of the problems of the Digest when you try to make it ready for data visualization. 

IPUMS: The Integrated Public Use Microdata Series uses US Census Bureau data from the American Community Survey to provide astonishingly detailed data at the granularity of a single person.  Samples run from 1% of the population to 5%; and from one to three years.  Big files, and a bit hard to tackle, but really good stuff if you want to dig deep and ask complex questions of the population.

WICHE: The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education publishes a lot of studies and white papers on best practices, but the most important thing they do is their "Knocking at the Door" projections of high school graduates looking forward by a decade or more.  It's not user friendly, but I've downloaded and combined the files into this visualization.

Data-dot-Gov:  This site has loads of good data (or links to it), some of it related to higher education.  You can spend a lot of time getting lost in this site, looking at things like FAA Investigations, locations of military veterans' grave sites, or "milk."

My Favorite Tool: And finally, the tool I use is Tableau Software. It's designed to allow even non-technical people the ability to ask questions of their data, and to get insight very quickly.  I almost always put the source of the data I use on my visualizations (or at least in the body of the blog post), and I encourage people to look at the NCES table, for instance, and the visualization to see which makes more sense.  I hope I'm successful in turning some data into insight.

You'll find the Tableau Community to be very smart, engaged, helpful, and encouraging as you try to make some sense out of your own numbers.  There are free versions of the software available, and you can publish your work to a public server to share with the world, and embed your visualizations into many blogs, including, obviously, Blogspot (Wordpress, not so much.)  

I consider myself a Tableau Dabbler, or perhaps an advanced beginner, very cognizant of my own limitations, but I'm happy to help any way I can.  Just drop me a note or give me a call.


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