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How to Lie With Education Data, Part 2

On Tuesday I wrote about a tongue-in-cheek post at Forbes that tried to make a point about the cost of college. I argued that the piece failed readers by falsely equating cost and value, among other problems.

A subtler but more worrisome example of misleading data appeared on Monday at the top of an article in The New York Times about the predatory activities of some debt-settlement companies, two of which stand accused of charging exorbitant fees to student-loan borrowers for free federal debt-…

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How to Lie With Education Data, Part 1

The well-known quotation is usually attributed to Mark Twain: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But even that attribution is probably untrue.

No matter who said it first, the point is clear. We’ve all seen data used, either intentionally or unintentionally, to misrepresent or distort the truth.

A couple of examples popped up in the past week, specifically related to the cost of college and the burden of student debt. We’ll take a look at one example here, and an…

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Tuition and Fees Rise, but Cost of Living—by Colleges’ Estimate—Falls

As usual, the U.S. Department of Education is a bit behind when it comes to data.

Published tuition and fees increased by about 4 percent at public and private nonprofit four-year colleges and by nearly 5 percent at public two-year colleges from 2011-12 to 2013-14, when adjusted for inflation, according to a new release from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The preliminary data were collected from about 7,400 postsecondary institutions in the fall of 2013 through the Integrated Post…

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Student-Debt Debate Is Stoked by Caveats About Data

A debate is raging about whether rising student-loan debt constitutes an existential crisis in American higher education or the natural outcome of more Americans’ pursuing a college degree.

That debate was stoked this week by the release of Andrew Rossi’s new documentary film, Ivory Tower, and a report, by Beth Akers and Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution, that made waves on the Internet after David Leonhardt wrote about it in The New York Times on Tuesday. Here’s some of the debate…

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Is There a Crisis in Computer-Science Education?

We’ve been following the continuing conversation among journalists, programmers, and educators about computer-science education in the United States and whether everyone should—or should not—learn how to code. It’s a question that comes up often in digital-media circles, so we were pleased to read a thoughtful, nuanced contribution to that conversation last week from Tasneem Raja, the interactive editor at Mother Jones.

In it, one statistic in particular caught our eye: The United States graduat…

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How Much Does It Cost to Recruit a Star Athlete?

My colleague Brad Wolverton has a terrific story this week that takes you inside the big-time college-sports recruitment process through the eyes of Marvin Clark, a promising high-school basketball player who dreams of playing in the NBA.

Mr. Clark was heavily recruited by half a dozen colleges, whose coaches flew to Kansas to see him play, brought him and his mother to their campuses for VIP tours, and gave him hours of personal attention on top of the hundreds of text messages they sent him. M…

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Racial Gaps in Attainment Widen, as State Support for Higher Ed Falls

The Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics released on Thursday its enormous annual report on the state of education in the United States. “The Condition of Education 2014” is based on 42 national indicators, from preschool enrollment to degree attainment to labor-force participation.

The report doesn’t draw any conclusions, but it provides an abundance of data on all levels of education. While we don’t necessarily learn much about higher education that we didn’t a…

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‘Is College Worth It?’ You Might First Ask, ‘Worth It for Whom?’

It’s commencement season, so it’s no surprise that the “Is college worth it?” question is making headlines (again) this week. Perhaps fueled by nervous graduates and parents wondering if they’ve just flushed four (or more) years and many thousands of dollars down the drain, a column on that question by David Leonhardt of The New York Times became the most-read and most-emailed article on the newspaper’s website.

The question isn’t new, nor are the answers, nor are the reactions to those answer…

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Women Are Underrepresented as College Chiefs but May Get Higher Pay

Walk into the president’s office at a public research university, and chances are high that the person behind the desk is a man. An 84-percent chance, in fact.

According to new data from The Chronicle’s annual survey of executive compensation, women accounted for just 40 of the 254 people who served as chief executives of public universities and public-college systems in 2012-13.

It probably isn’t a surprise that women are underrepresented at the helms of universities, considering that they are …

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Coaches, Not Presidents, Top Public-College Pay List

It’s no secret that in more than 40 states the highest-paid public employee isn’t the governor or even a university president. It’s a public-college football or basketball coach.

Coaches’ salaries are well documented and are often cited in comparisons with the salaries of student-athletes ($0) or with professors and college presidents (considerably higher).

The Chronicle’s latest survey on executive compensation at public universities, to be published on Sunday, provides even more information fo…