Apr 25, 2011

Colleges by the Numbers: the Common Data Set

If you've ever thought about tapping directly into the database used by publishers of those weighty college guides, I have some good news. It’s not that difficult if you know the secret.

And the secret is the Common Data Set.

Several years ago, the Common Data Set (CDS) was created as a way to satisfy the endless appetite for college statistics among such organizations 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 and websites, schools now fill out a lengthy standardized form each year. Data is collected, which is then 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 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 or information they feel could be misinterpreted.

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

Note that the most recent data should be from 2010-11, but some schools are slow to post.

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