Did you ever wonder where some college guidebooks and online search engines get their information? Are you curious about how publications like US News & World Report collect data for rankings? Would you like to go directly to the source?
If so, let me introduce you to the Common Data Set, an amazing resource anyone can access—if you know how.
The backstory is simple. The Common Data Set (CDS) was created as a way to satisfy the public’s insatiable appetite for college knowledge and statistics.
According to the CDS website, the Common Data Set initiative is “a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report. The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the reporting burden on data providers.”
So rather than answer a zillion questions from many different publishers and websites, colleges fill out a lengthy standardized form each year. Data is collected and compiled and doled out to publishers which use it for everything from college rankings to online college search tools.
And many colleges are kind enough to publish their CDS surveys on their websites so anyone can have access to the information. And if you get familiar with the various data fields, it’s a goldmine covering everything from admissions statistics to financial aid.
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 and URL’s change frequently, 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.
And keep in mind that the folks who administer the CDS don’t audit the information for accuracy. They rely on colleges and universities to provide accurate and truthful information, which isn’t always the case as we’ve learned from the repeated scandals involving US News.
Also, it’s fair to say that colleges sometimes differ about terms and definitions. For example, the CDS provides little guidance on what is required for grade point average information—weighted, unweighted, or recomputed. As a result, the reports on GPA are sometimes one and other times another. And often, the question (C12) simply isn’t answered.
Finally, don’t confuse the Common Data Set with the federal government’s College Navigator. They involve two different reporting systems and produce two different reports in different formats.
But for hardcore data junkies, the Common Data Set is hard to beat. Depending on the time of year, it’s more current than what you’re likely to find in any print guide or website.
To get started, here are some sample CDS links:
- Amherst College: https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/facts/common_data_sets
- Bowdoin College: https://www.bowdoin.edu/ir/data/cds-table.shtml
- Carnegie Mellon University: https://www.cmu.edu/ira/CDS/index.html
- College of William and Mary: http://www.wm.edu/offices/ir/cds/
- Cornell University: http://irp.dpb.cornell.edu/common-data-set
- Dartmouth College: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~oir/data-reporting/cds/
- Eckerd College: https://www.eckerd.edu/about/factsheet/
- George Mason University: https://irr2.gmu.edu/cds/cds_new/
- George Washington University: https://www2.gwu.edu/~ire/
- Georgetown University: https://oads.georgetown.edu/commondataset
- Gettysburg College: http://www.gettysburg.edu/about/offices/ees/institutional_analysis/cds.dot
- Harvey Mudd College: https://www.hmc.edu/institutional-research/institutional-statistics/common-data-set/
- Indiana University: https://www.iu.edu/~uirr/reports/compliance/cds/
- James Madison University: http://www.jmu.edu/instresrch/cds.shtml
- Kalamazoo College: http://www.kzoo.edu/about/assessment/common-data-set/
- Lewis and Clark College: https://www.lclark.edu/offices/institutional_research/common_data_set/
- Middlebury College: http://www.middlebury.edu/offices/administration/planning/mdata/history/cds
- Northwestern University: http://enrollment.northwestern.edu/common-data-set.html
- Pomona College: https://www.pomona.edu/administration/institutional-research/common-data-set
- Princeton University: https://registrar.princeton.edu/university_enrollment_sta/#comp000048a59a9e00000006304217
- Queens University: http://www.queens.edu/Academics-and-Schools/Office-of-Academic-Affairs/Institutional-Effectiveness-and-Planning/Institutional-Research.html
- Reed College: https://www.reed.edu/ir/cds/cdsindex.html
- SMU: https://www.smu.edu/Provost/IR/Statistics
- Stanford University: https://ucomm.stanford.edu/cds/pdf/stanford_cds_2016.pdf
- Swarthmore College: http://www.swarthmore.edu/institutional-research/common-data-set
- Temple University: http://www.temple.edu/ira/data-analysis-and-reporting/institutional-reporting.html
- UCLA: http://www.aim.ucla.edu/profiles/cds2.aspx
- University of Maryland-College Park: https://www.irpa.umd.edu/Publications/pub_cds.html
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: http://oira.unc.edu/facts-and-figures/data-summaries-and-publications/common-data-set/
- University of Notre Dame: https://www3.nd.edu/~instres/CDS/CDS.shtml
- University of Richmond: http://ifx.richmond.edu/research/common-data.html
- University of South Carolina: http://ipr.sc.edu/cds/
- University of Virginia: http://ias.virginia.edu/common-data-set
This is the first part of two-part series on the Common Data Set. The second part will drill a little deeper into CDS questions and content.