Economy of Education Mockup-2.jpg

The Economy of Education

Parsons Paris, 2015

Information Visualization • Research • Data Analysis

The American dream was simple: work hard and your efforts will be reciprocated proportionately. But when trade skills and dedication became insufficient to provide food on the table, a car in the driveway, and a vacation on the calendar, the college degree was championed as a guarantee of this dream. 

In today’s complicated political and economic climates, however, higher education is no longer a guarantee for gainful employment. It is now a common fear amongst families and students that the ever-rising costs of public and private college tuitions will have little return on investment- or, worse, create lifelong debt. 

By scraping, cleaning, and visualizing data sets from publicly available records, this project attempts to answer the following questions:

1.) How does government spending on education affect college tuitions?

2.) Is there a correlation between tuition rates and unemployment rates?

3.) What are the most expensive states for public university education? 


Data Sources

Data Sources

Because this project looks at national figures as well as state-by-state figures, it was necessary to use several sources. The biggest challenge was finding comparable data. For one, not all data was available for all years.  I would have liked to have examined data from a larger period of time, but only certain years overlapped. Additionally, some of my comparisons may be inaccurate since some data is recorded in “2014” dollars and some in the market rate of the time the data refers to. Ideally, all data would have been in percent change for the best accuracy, but this was not possible due to what was available. 

For my data about state-by-state tuition as well as overall tuition, I used The College Board ( This website is a reputable source for data (this is the company responsible for national college admissions processes). Additionally, it was much better organized than other data I encountered (both online and in the spreadsheets). 

The data I used for unemployment and government spending on educations was all a part of a larger report by The World Bank ( This is a reputable nonprofit organization and they had a large selection of data available. 

Finally, in order to create a cartographic visualization, it was necessary to find the geographic coordinates of each state and match this with the tuition data so that CartoDB could recognize their locations. This data was found by a simple Google search for “average latitude and longitude of each state.” I used the first result as my source ( 

Visualization 1: Average Tuition, Government Education Spending, and Unemployment 

Visualization 1: Average Tuition, Government Education Spending, and Unemployment 

The above graph illustrates several trends using a dual y-axis. Dollar amounts refer to the public and private tuitions while the right y axis refers to the percentage of the total US population that is employed as well as the total amount of the US government’s budget that is spent on education.

By overlaying two types of vertical measurement, I aimed to create depth to the information. is infographic is meant to be thought-provoking and speculative rather that accurate and scientific.

While both public and private tuitions are steadily rising, there is a vast divergence in their actual cost. Additionally, it is very clear that there is an increasing trend in unemployment while federal spending on education continues to decrease. While I cannot prove causation, this visual demonstrates with certainty a correlation between the two. It also demonstrates a correlation between joblessness and government spending.

Visualization 2: Average In-State Public Tuition for a 4-Year College, by State

Visualization 2: Average In-State Public Tuition for a 4-Year College, by State

While my first visualizations looked at national averages, this map seeks to illustrate the economic and educational disparities in the United States. The size of each state’s bubble corresponds directly to the average price of in-state tuition at a public 4-year university in that state (it should be noted that public institutions cost considerably more for out-of-state residents). A few trends emerge: colleges are more expensive on the coasts and smaller states seem to be more expensive as well. While this may seem like a trick of the visualization at first, a zoomed view of the east coast shows that, for the most part, the smaller the state, the higher the tuition. Again, this does not necessarily mean causation. Perhaps it is the state’s density or proximity to a coast that increases tuition. Either way, across the country, there are considerable differences in tuition, with the Midwest seeing the lowest rates. While this may illustrate inequality, it is also worth noting that perhaps tuitions are proportionate to the cost of living or quality of education in each state. This, however, brings in to question why there should be any disparity in education quality across a country at all, regardless of the cost of living.