Mar 30, 2010

The Common Data Set: Where Admissions Pros Get Their Numbers

Have you ever wished you could tap into the same data source used by the publishers of all those weighty college guides? It’s not that difficult if you know the secret. And the secret is the Common Data Set.

A number of years ago, the Common Data Set (CDS) was created as a method of satisfying the endless appetite for college statistics among organizations such as the College Board, US News and World Report, Peterson’s, and Wintergreen Orchard House. The idea was to reduce duplication of effort and meet publishers’ needs by asking colleges to complete a single survey the results of which would be compiled into a shared data base.

So rather than answer a zillion questions from many different publishers, schools now fill out a lengthy standardized form each year and data is collected which may then be used for everything from college rankings to online college search tools. The secret is that many colleges are kind enough to publish their surveys on their websites so anyone can have access to the information. And it’s a goldmine covering everything from admissions statistics to graduation rates.

Typically, you can find CDS responses by going to a college’s Institutional Research Office webpage or by using the website search function and entering “Common Data Set.” You can also Google “Common Data Set” and institution name. If the information is posted, it will immediately appear as a link.

But not all schools post the CDS, so don’t be alarmed if after several attempts nothing comes up. A number of colleges simply don’t want the public to have easy access to what may be unflattering statistics. For example, several colleges abruptly removed or broke links to their data after investigations began into potentially discriminatory admissions practices.

Begin your explorations into the Common Data Set, by checking out a few local college webpages:

• American University: Office of Institutional Research & Assessment
• Catholic University: Institutional Research and Assessment
• College of William and Mary: Institutional Research and Reporting
• Frostburg University: Office of Information Services
• George Mason University: Institutional Research and Reporting
• George Washington University: Office of Institutional Research & Planning
• Loyola University Maryland: Institutional Research
• Salisbury University: Common Data Set
• Towson University: About TU
• UMBC: Office of Institutional Research
• University of Richmond: Office of Institutional Effectiveness
• University of Virginia: Institutional Assessment and Studies
• Virginia Commonwealth University: Center for Institutional Effectiveness

Note that the most recent data should be from 2009-10, but some schools are slow to post.

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