Administrators in the University of Minnesota’s Graduate School are designing a data portal in an effort to make student information more transparent and accessible.
The portal, which will be available to students and faculty online in fall 2018, will allow faculty and graduate students to view information about graduate application and admission trends from 2008 to 2018.
“The issue is that much of this data has been available, but in different places,” said Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education Scott Lanyon. “I actually was surprised by how much data is available. People were frequently asking for this information, so I thought, let’s make it easy.”
The data portal will include information on student majors, gender, race and ethnicity, as well as international and domestic status of past and current students. It will also include information about students’ degree completion rates, funding, scholarships, fellowships, grants and alumni career paths.
According to Lanyon, the Graduate School has committed to joining a coalition of universities and research institutions that address transparency called the Coalition for Next Generation Life Science.
Peter Espenshade, co-director of the coalition, said there is a growing concern students are unaware of the diversity of careers after education. While many students who receive Ph.D. training often pursue career paths in academia, they can also go into fields that aren't closely related to their degrees, he said.
The coalition aims to help potential students choose an academic path and improve training for today's Ph.D. students and post-doctoral fellows.
"One barrier is the lack of available data," he said. "It allows the student to be more informed."
The Association of American Universities made a statement in September urging universities around the country to commit to increasing transparency in order to improve Ph.D. education.
This includes allowing access to information about “student demographics, time to [complete a] degree, financial support and career paths and outcomes within and outside academia,” the statement reads.
Lanyon attended a University Senate Faculty Affairs Committee hearing in February to notify University governance of the school’s move to the portal.
Lanyon said some people may be concerned about publicizing certain information, but added that anonymity is still important.
Molly Schwartz, strategic communications consultant in the Graduate School, is working with Lanyon on designing the portal. She identifies significant data and works to make it comprehensible and cohesive.
Meetings with the Graduate School's individual colleges will begin next week, Lanyon said.
“We’re providing a data portal for each of the [graduate school’s] colleges,” Schwartz said. “We’re going to provide all this information to the colleges and say ‘what information would you not be comfortable sharing, and if so, why?’”
Users will sign in with their University x500 account, but the actual data is housed on a server called Tableau. Some data will be made publicly available in January.
“There’s a lot of layers of security right now,” Schwartz said. “We’re trying to figure out what people are comfortable sharing publicly.”