Mapping the social network of American colleges by status

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating story and interactive area that shows social networks among American universities and colleges:

Each year colleges submit “comparison groups” to the U.S. Department of Education to get feedback on how their institution stacks up in terms of finances, enrollment, and other measures tabulated in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The groups sometimes represent a college’s actual peers but more often reveal their aspirations.

The Chronicle analyzed the relationships of nearly 1,600 four-year colleges that make up those groups to map out the power players in higher education.

The typical college selected a comparison group of 16 colleges with a higher average SAT score and graduation rate than its own, lower acceptance rate, and larger endowment, budget, and enrollment.

The eight Ivy League colleges among them chose only 12 institutions outside their own number as peers—not surprisingly, often including the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

So it looks like colleges themselves act like high school students applying to college as laid out by sociologist Mitchell Stevens in Making a Class: they want to improve their own status by attaching themselves to a higher status institution.

It would take some time to figure this out based on entering different college names but here would be some intriguing queries that could be answered by the interactive graphic:

1. Which colleges are most aspirational?

2. Which college are the best judges of their own level, meaning that they select institutions that also select them?

3. What are the institutions that act as bridges, meaning they join together networks of different kinds of colleges or regions of colleges?

4. Are there any colleges that actually underestimate their own status by choosing institutions “below” them?

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