Colleges submit "comparison groups" to the U.S. Education Department each year for data analysis, effectively revealing which institutions they see as their peers. The Chronicle analyzed the connections among 1,595 four-year colleges and found that they tend to select aspirational peers. Some of the nation's most selective research universities and liberal-arts colleges were the most popular peers chosen.
Click on the image below to interact with the data and explore where your college fits.
We created this interactive map to visualize the power players in higher education. Institutions with more connections—and connections from other highly ranked colleges—are shown with larger circles. (The sizes are determined by PageRank, the same algorithm that powers Google search results by looking at links to measure the relative importance of a given Web page.) Institutions with many connections in common are clustered together.
About These Data
The Chronicle analyzed "comparison groups" submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education for the feedback reports including data from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Colleges choose the composition of the groups in order to receive data from the department to be used for benchmarking and peer analysis. Those reports provide information on a comparison group's enrollments, costs, financial aid, faculty and staff, finances, and other variables.
Not all colleges select comparison groups, and the size of groups varies. The Chronicle included only those colleges that selected peers or were selected as peers by others. Our data set includes 1,595 colleges.
The Chronicle also limited its analysis to public, nonprofit, and proprietary four-year institutions classified as research, master's, or baccalaureate colleges by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. We excluded institutions with undergraduate enrollments under 500.
Influence ranks are based on the PageRank algorithm, a trademark of Google. The algorithm weights colleges on the basis of how many others chose them, and how many chose those colleges.
The positions of institutions on the map were created using Gephi, a network-visualization program. The program clusters similar institutions on the basis of their connections and relationships. We classified institutions as Ivy League colleges, public flagships, members of the American Association of Universities, and top 10 liberal-arts colleges (ranked in U.S. News & World Report in 2012). Historically black colleges and universities are deemed as such by the U.S. government.
Endowment figures are taken from Ipeds and are based on the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. Expenses are for the 2010 fiscal year reported to Ipeds. Enrollments are for fall 2010.
Acceptance rates are taken from Ipeds according to the percentage of applicants admitted for fall 2010. Graduation rates are based on the total cohort of full-time, first-time students seeking degrees or certificates who entered in 2004 and graduated within six years.
Colleges report the 25th and 75th percentiles of SAT scores in critical reading and math to Ipeds. We took an estimated median of each of those scores to get an estimated combined median score. SAT scores are for the class entering in fall 2010, or fall 2009 where 2010 stats were not yet available.
Download the data
The files used to create the interactive graphic: edges (peer selections) and nodes (institutions). download the compressed CSV files.
Pipe-delimited list of peers selected by each included college. download the compressed CSV file.