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Ed Money Watch

A Blog from New America's Federal Education Budget Project

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Using the FEBP Comparison Function to Mine Higher Education Data

Published:  June 23, 2011

Last week, the Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, announced the launch of a new version of its website. The new site includes four years of higher education data on federal financing, demographics, outcomes, and financial aid use for every state and institution in the country. These data expand upon FEBP’s already rich array of K-12 data. In addition to providing the data in an easy-to-read format, the FEBP site also provides a comparison function that allows users to compare data for states, school districts, and institutions of higher education. Today, we will demonstrate how users can utilize the comparison function in order to better understand postsecondary outcomes.

Users can access the comparison function by rolling over an individual indicator name. Say, for example, that we are interested in comparing graduation rates among successful public, four-year schools using University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) as our school of interest. All we have to do is navigate to the UC Berkeley data page, roll over the graduation rate indicator and click the link that says “Compare University of California, Berkeley to other schools based on Total Graduation Rate.”

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This will take us to a page that displays all of the public, four year institutions that have graduation rates within 10 percent of UC Berkeley’s 90 percent graduation rate in 2009. In this case, 23 institutions have similar graduation rates, ranging from 81 percent at University of Wisconsin at Madison to 93 percent at the University of Virginia.

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The comparison function also automatically displays each school’s average Pell Grant and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants at the institution. Interestingly, we learn that though these schools all have similar graduation rates, the make-up of their students varies widely. Only 8 percent of students at James Madison University received Pell Grants in 2009, while 69 percent received them at the Institute of American Indian & Alaska Native Culture & Arts in New Mexico. At UC Berkeley, by comparison, 24 percent of students receive Pell Grants. This suggests that some of these schools are better at attracting and serving low-income students than others.

We can also see how these schools stack up on other indicators by adding additional indicators to the display. Just click the button that says “Change Indicators Displayed” and navigate through the tabs to select other indicators. For example, let’s add net price and total enrollment to the display. Unsurprisingly, we learn that these 23 schools vary widely in both their net prices and in enrollment. The Institute of American Indian & Alaska Native Culture & Arts is by far the least expensive school with a net price of $6,170, and the smallest school with a 2009 enrollment of 350 students. This may explain in part the high percentage of low income students at the school. The Pennsylvania State University, on the other hand, is more than twice as expensive at $16,080; and the University of Texas at Austin is several magnitudes larger with an enrollment of 50,995.

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We can also widen our comparison by expanding the types of schools we include. For example, if we want to incorporate two year or less than two year schools into our comparison, we just have to click the button that says “School Level: Four or More Years”. This expands our comparison to include 163 public schools. This creates much more variation in the percent of students receiving Pell Grants, primarily because community colleges tend to have much higher proportions of low-income students.

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Similarly, we can expand our comparison to non-public institutions by clicking the button that says “School Type: Public.” The results page now shows that there are 857 schools that have graduation rates within 10 percent of UC Berkeley’s. By including private and for-profit schools, our comparison now includes schools with much higher net prices.

The comparison function allows users to delve deeply into the rich higher education and K-12 data available on the FEBP website. This tool can be used to expose idiosyncrasies in the ways in which federal funds are distributed among institutions, or to highlight schools that are succeeding with particular populations. As Congress continues to discuss changes to the laws that govern federal loans, grants, and other programs that affect higher education, this information should play a powerful role in the debate.

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