National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis

An NCHEMS Online Resource  

Reviewed by Pat Windham 

The National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, more commonly known as
Higher Ed Info, was developed by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).  The mission of the center is “to provide state policymakers and analysts timely and accurate data and information that are useful in making sound higher education policy decisions.”

That mission is being met by an interactive website using national datasets to provide state-level information. The information includes data on college attainment, access, finance, and general workforce and economic conditions.   

The website is interactive and allows users to select a year (1990–2011), state, and measures. It should be noted that due to the use of various national datasets, such as the American Community Survey, the United States Census, ACT/SAT results, and other public sources, not all years are available for every measure. The measures are organized around various issues: educational attainment, college access, college affordability, persistence and completion, efficiency and effectiveness, higher education finance, workforce conditions, and economic conditions. These categories of measures are then further broken down into specific indicators, such as attainment by degree level and age that reflect the datasets that form the measures. 

Selected data are presented in several different ways. There are tabs for presentation of data as maps, bar graphs, or tables that can be downloaded and saved to the user’s computer. The individual measures also include some policy implications and definitions. Built-in state reports that provide data on all of the measures are available if the user does not want to create a table with only a subset of selected measures. 

Scatter plots can be created with any two of the built-in measures, and maps can be generated with any database available to the researcher. All data and displays are at the state level.

The site makes it easy to create spreadsheets that indicate the results for each state on the built-in measures or to create scatter plots for any two measures. In addition, drop-down menus and buttons allow the user to move through the steps effectively.  

All data sources are clearly labeled and easy to find. The usefulness of the site is in having access to these various data sources in a single location and the ease of table creation. The measures are already defined and built-in, so the site is not a source of user-defined measures. However, this drawback is outweighed by ease of access and use. Users can also develop maps with datasets outside those of the site; the maps can be downloaded and combined with user-input data for a final product. 

Using national datasets has some drawbacks, the most limiting of which is the time frame of the data. National datasets tend to be somewhat dated by the time they are published, which affects the usefulness of this website. Institutional researchers may want to use the site for national and state data within the limited timeframes and consider local data for that same time period as well as the latest local data to indicate what has happened since the time of the national comparisons.  

I found this site very easy to use as I went through the process of calling up already-defined measures and tables and in creating my own tables. I also liked the inclusion of basic policy implication and definitions of measures. 

In summary, while the measures are already established and the data sets are available to the public, this is a very useful tool for any researcher looking for state-level comparisons. The ability to select measures and create scatter plots allows one to view relationships between measures and share that information with others. 

This site is worth the time of any researcher looking for state-level data and should be included in every institutional researcher’s tool kit. 

Patricia Windham, Ph.D., is the former Associate Vice-Chancellor for Research and Evaluation at the Florida Division of Community Colleges.   



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Total Comments: 7
Deborah posted on 2/14/2013 11:04 AM
Thank you for sharing this resource. I especially appreciate the function that allows the user to generate custom reports. I can see my institution referring to this site whenever we need comparison data for accreditation reporting and for decision-making.
Tony posted on 2/14/2013 11:21 AM
This looks like it might be a good resource. I'm curious to see how the scope of the data available compares to IPEDS.
Marlene posted on 2/14/2013 11:50 AM
I have used this resource in the past and I have found it very helpful. Thank you for highlighting this important data source!
Rob posted on 2/14/2013 3:58 PM
Having so many data sources available makes choosing one that provides accurate data in useful ways is difficult to find. This is the best source I've used for analytical comparisons that are easy for me to provide to the decision makers.
Kelly posted on 2/15/2013 8:35 AM
The benefits and possible limitations to this resource are nicely outlined! I appreciate that you offer both perspectives on using this data source.
Ijay posted on 2/15/2013 12:54 PM
Thanks Patricia,this is indeed a veritable resource for researchers especially in an era where accurate data for organizational and institutional decision-making proves difficult.However,talking about time frame,data cannot be obsolete,it depends the focus of the research,as retrospective data can always lay credence future projections.Actually ,in Structural Equation Modeling(SEM),the technique of path analysis and confirmatory analysis helps to test a previously hypothesized model and expose variables that are causally interrelated.In other words data in research can span over many years and can never loose its usefulness if it is accurate.Pat,using your words-this site is worth the time...Many thanks for such innovation.
Kevin posted on 2/18/2013 8:18 AM
Thanks for the review. I am taking an IPEDS review in a couple of weeks and am anxious to see how this compares to IPEDS. It is always good to have reliable online resources available to draw from.