A repository of information about colleges and universities — including costs, enrollment and demographic numbers, graduation information and post-college job statistics — can now be found on Data USA, a website that aims not just to collect information, but to use that information to tell a larger story about the state of the country.
Created in 2014 by Deloitte, a programming company called Datawheel and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, Data USA now offers data visualization profiles of more than 7,300 universities and higher education institutions in the U.S. The profiles include figures on admissions and financial aid, majors, time to complete degrees, diversity of student and faculty populations, and staffing, expenses and operations.
The statistics come from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems. Much like the federal government’s College Scorecard, Data USA is free to use and its data is open. But the site’s creators argue that Data USA is more comprehensive, and an “add to cart” function allows users to customize certain data.
For example, users can search for gender composition of faculty across all schools along with student population figures, and download and analyze that data.
“You can merge datasets from all different sources with the ‘add to cart’ function, and that gives you a power that you don’t get from other types of platforms,” said César Hidalgo, director of MIT’s Collective Learning group and a co-founder of Datawheel. “You can combine data and do custom analysis.”
The site also compiles information about topics such as opioid deaths by state and poverty rate by county. These are followed by articles with titles like “How far does damage from opioid addiction extend?” and “Poverty is bad for your health” that synthesize the stark statistics by creating a larger narrative around them.
“Whether you are a student or parent, researcher, journalist, employer, or curious citizen, these new data visualizations offer greater insights into the composition of colleges and universities around the country and the integral role they play in the overall job market,” said Matt Gentile, principal, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP, and one of the Data USA project lead sponsors. “With the vast amounts of open government data, we’re closing the gap in making that data useful, understandable and actionable.”
Since launching about four years ago, the site has garnered more than 300,000 monthly users. A team consisting of economists, data scientists, researchers and business executives aggregate data from sources including the Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Department of Education and the Census Bureau, among others.
Hidalgo hopes the addition of university information will allow students and other stakeholders to more easily access information that can sometimes be hard to find on a college website. Recent college graduates can also use the site to find locations with the best opportunities for jobs that match certain majors.
“The new university profiles will allow students, parents and school counselors to understand the cost, demographics and career opportunities of thousands of U.S. universities,” he said.
Hidalgo added in an interview that, while the statistics have been buried elsewhere on the site, now that they’re at the forefront, they will likely find new audiences who can interpret the data into larger stories about higher education.
“We don’t take a position on what’s good or bad,” Hidalgo said. “We have to expose [the data] in the most neutral way possible, so that people over time can put an interpretative layer on it.”