How U.S. News & World Report Translates Massive Databases into New Products & Services
Last year U.S. News & World Report hit a new milestone. The publisher broke its one-day web traffic record with 2.6 million unique visitors and 18.9 million pageviews. And it wasn't a celebrity iCloud leak or cat video that spurred the astronomical amount of traffic. It was the annual release of the Best Colleges ranking, a 30-year-old feature that evaluates colleges on an array of academic and student life criteria. Over the last decade, Best Colleges -- one of U.S. News' many "Best" lists, such as Best Cars and Best Hospitals -- has grown beyond a simple ranking. Today, the Best Colleges brand represents a portfolio of robust data-driven tools that users can engage with as they make major life decisions.
Vice president of data and information strategy Stephanie Salmon has driven the transformation of the publisher's flagship resource, Best Colleges from a static ranking to a diverse range of services. "When we first started Best Colleges in 1983, we published it and went on to the next project. Now it's really an all-year endeavor." The database that powers the rankings has grown to support an annual guidebook, U.S. News editorial coverage, customized reports and white papers, and a myriad of products and services for use by parents, students, and colleges.
From Rankings to Data Services
The Best Colleges product portfolio has expanded, explains Salmon, because "data has become more available and data storage and infrastructure more affordable. That has allowed us to really build on the backbone of the Best Colleges database." The database itself is fed by a 700-question online survey Salmon and her team send to approximately 1,800 U.S. colleges each year. The survey captures data about academic achievement, graduation rates, cost, and enrollment.
Salmon is also working to find new data sets from outside parties that can add greater context to Best Colleges tools. "Most recently we've added Clery Act data," says Salmon, "which is data around campus safety and security [collected by the U.S. Department of Education]. We're not using this in the rankings themselves, but it's information that we think is important for parents and students to consider as they begin looking at colleges."