NIU develops online tools for new Illinois postsecondary education website

The NIU team at Illinois Interactive Report Cards released a new website on Thursday, Oct. 10 – Illinois Postsecondary Profiles (IPP). The website provides a wealth of information about postsecondary schools, which include community colleges, universities and a variety of professional training schools in our state. Users can search schools by criteria and explore enrollment, affordability, progress and completion data. The site has been produced with funding from the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Community College Board. 

In the spring of 2018, NIU tapped Alan Clemens, a long-time instructor in the College of Education and a researcher in the P-20 Center of the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, to direct the team and develop the new IPP site.

Clemens describes the current version of the IPP as “the first step in a new approach to present information about postsecondary education in Illinois.” He continues, “While the IPP site bears some resemblance to similar websites, the design is distinctive and lays the foundation for future innovation.”

Because the IPP is getting richer data in many cases than is reported at the federal level, the site includes a unique combination of features: longitudinal data for many data points and the ability to break down results by subgroup. “The IPP has quickly evolved from pilot project to published site with explosive potential,” according to Clemens.

“Our focus-group work suggests that public policy makers and researchers will be interested in looking at the data. We’re also getting a lot of feedback that users of the site will likely be high school counselors, students and families. We’re excited to be working on a tool that could have an impact in such diverse communities across the state.”

Clemens says one of the goals of the Illinois Interactive Report Cards is to cement the state of Illinois’ position as a leader in online data initiatives as he and his team continue to expand both the Illinois Report Card and the Illinois Postsecondary Profiles.

“Aspirationally, we’d like to offer fully linked data across pre-K through 12th grade institutions, postsecondary institutions and early job placements,” Clemens says. “It’s one thing for a high school counselor to look at demographic breakdowns of specific postsecondary institutions, but how much more powerful is it to be able to look at your data and say, ‘Where have our students gone? What has been their persistence and graduation rate?’ Having that data related to the actual performance in aggregate of your own students is such a powerful decision-making tool.”

To make the site accessible for a wide variety of users, the IPP team is organizing the data to tell a story.

“Data is often presented flea-market style, where it’s laid out in tables and you hunt and peck, table by table, until you find something that’s meaningful to you and then you grab it and hold on,” he says. “We’re being extremely careful to find a balance between describing the data to make it understandable and over-editing in a way that favors one set of institutions or outcomes over another.”

Clemens emphasizes that, as much as he enjoys working with data, the people who will benefit from it are the most important factor.

“If we do everything we can to facilitate the provision of accurate and timely data, people will make better informed decisions, and we will have facilitated the success of the next generation of Illinois graduates.”

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