Department of Education

College Scorecard

Background

Turning data into informed choices

Higher education may be the single most important investment students can make in their futures, but finding reliable information about affordability and value can be difficult. The Department of Education wanted to bring together data from several agencies to help students make informed choices about what school to attend.

The Department of Education had worked with the U.S. Digital Service and other agencies to gather the data, but they needed help getting it online and making it usable.

Approach

Interactive and open data is usable data

Before we wrote any code, we started with research about how students, parents, and guidance counselors use data and how frustrating it is to find unreliable numbers. We used that research to create a cardboard prototype, then took that prototype to students to see if we were on the right track.

Ultimately, we decided to build several tools that would help get the data to the public:

  • An API (application program interface) to help journalists, nonprofits, and private organizations access previously unreleased data from thousands of institutions.
  • An interactive website where students can browse data about affordability, graduation rates, and how much students earn after graduation.
  • A data site that supports academics, journalists, and researchers who are exploring college outcomes.

College Scorecard has become a go-to resource for students and provided the data for many other tools that guide students in their decision-making process — even Google has integrated the data into search results.

The process of building College Scorecard also had a profound effect on the Department of Education: their in-house digital service team has extended these iterative development and user-centered design techniques to other projects.

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