Reflections on the Power of Public Health Education Data Visualizations

These new dashboards from the Center for Public Health Systems at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health shed light on federal administrative data about post-secondary education in the US.

These days, everybody has got a dashboard. Whether used for public communication or as a means of business analytics, data visualizations are everywhere (as, it seems, are memes about data viz). During COVID-19 response, most every state health agency in the country set up a dashboard of one sort or another to normalize data reporting and serve as a ‘source of truth” for partners, the media, and the public. Just a few years ago, these dashboards might not have been possible, but software packages like Tableau and Power BI have seemingly created a new industry in a short period of time. Just as these packages bring value to businesses, or health departments, in understanding important data points and trends, we at the Center for Public Health Systems at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health think they can help shed light on the too-infrequently discussed troves of administrative data the federal government collects about post-secondary education in the US. For that reason, we have launched four new dashboards – join us, won’t you?

Map of public health programs

Recently published redistricting data from the US Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics can be married in Tableau to show a stark reality – that in much of the country, public health graduates do not reflect the communities in which their institutions sit. Even though public health is more racially and ethnically diverse than other graduate degrees overall, representation in student bodies (and faculty and staff) are often lacking. This view shows master’s degree graduates, though data are viewable by institutions for other degree levels, as well.

Public Health Graduates in the US

I have worked with the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS) for almost a decade, trying to better understand the trajectory of public health education in the US. While rife with (mis)reporting issues, the dataset is by far the most expansive post-secondary dataset available domestically. For public health specifically, the field is lucky to also have ASPPH’s long-running annual data collection program, which also tracks degree conferrals (though only for ASPPH members). This has allowed for triangulation of degrees awarded and examination of changes in conferral trends, like with degree accreditation, as shown above.

Debt and earnings

Quietly, a couple years ago, the federal government started releasing median degree-associated debt and median earnings one year post-graduation for college graduates across the country. The Wall Street Journal has done a nice job publishing out of this dataset, but it is one of the few outlets that has. We think these data are fascinating – by institution and by degree level, information that used to be very closely held is now publicly accessible. Pair it up with other information like, say, the recently released US News and World Report data, and you’ve got yourself an interesting data viz.

Undergraduate public health

Except for COVID-19, perhaps no story in public health education has been as hot as the rise of undergraduate public health in recent years. Despite having fewer than 1,500 undergraduate degrees awarded in 2004, compared to 6,500 master’s degrees, as of 2020 undergraduate public health has overtaken master’s as the most-awarded degree type. Now over 18,000 undergraduate degrees are awarded each year. This growth is largely attributable to BIPOC students, as the data viz above shows.

Our hope is that making these data not just publicly available but usable by interested members of the public means the field will gain new insights and be forced to engage with challenging questions. Each dashboard is available at the Center’s website here – hope you enjoy!

Author Profile

JP Leider
JP Leider, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Public Health Systems at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and a member of the JPHMP Editorial Board. He is available at leider (at) umn (dot) edu.