Undermining Pell

A beeswarm data visualization showing how the median price of college has increased for lower income students

Last fall, New America's Education Policy program came to us for help with one of their flagship publications—an annual analysis of public university affordability for lower-income students. They do this study each year, and consistently find that public universities are charging lower-income students higher and higher tuition costs.

The author had originally wanted to recreate a scatterplot our graphics team made last year. The scatterplot shows the percentage of low-income students receiving Pell grants on the Y axis and the school's average net price on the X axis. The circles that represent each university are sized proportionally to that school's endowment, and divided into four separate quadrants.

After reading the author's findings and looking at the data, I realized the purpose of this year's report was a bit different. It was the first year that over 50% of public universities were charging low-income students $10,000 or more, and I wanted to design a data visualization that could support that message. Recreating last year's scatterplot was not going to do the trick.

Instead, I proposed an interactive beeswarm chart that could intuitively show how tuition prices for low-income students have gone up, while still showing the granular detail of the individual schools. I included some nifty hover states, as well as an auto-complete search box that lets people highlight the schools they're interested in. I'm pretty happy with the result.