Wikiprogress Data Visualization Contest 2015 – Access to Higher Education is Not Equal

Access to Higher Education is Not Equal

Alice Feng
Access to Higher Education is Not Equal

Entrant’s Description: The title of my infographic is Access to Higher Education is Not Equal. The concept I am aiming to show is that although young adults in developed countries have generally become increasingly well-educated over time, when we take a closer look at the family backgrounds of those young adults, we see that children of less educated parents are under-represented relative to children of highly educated parents. Indeed, most college students come from already privileged backgrounds; children of parents with at most a secondary education are much less likely to enroll in higher education. Since higher levels of education are linked with greater earnings and better economic outcomes, this situation perpetuates inequality.
My design shows not only the breakout of parental educational attainment among students enrolled in tertiary education but also how this breakout is not representative of society as a whole. I do this by using filled circles to represent the college student subgroups and larger unfilled circles to represent the size of the entire population of all children with parents of that education level. The ratio of the filled to unfilled circle illustrates how children of college educated parents are over-represented in higher education while children of parents with at most secondary schooling are under-represented.
In order to depict these relationships, I had to apply Bayes’ Rule to reverse the conditioning of the data so that I could determine the percentage of students enrolled in tertiary education given the number of young adults with parents of a certain education level. Reversing the conditioning was critical for illustrating the inequality in who gets to attend college – if the population as a whole is generally highly educated, then having a low number of students from less educated parents may not actually be problematic.
Some related works that inspired me include Hans Rosling’s animated bubble charts depicting social and economic trends over time and Periscopic’s piece on the gender gap in PhD degrees. Both of these works disaggregate overall trends to explore how stories change when we examine them at a more detailed level.
All of the data I used for my piece came from the tables provided in the OECD’s Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2014 publication.

From the Judges: The infographic “Access to Higher Education is Not Equal” provides interesting new insights into the question how far your education level depends on the one of your parents. The visual solution has ample character and invites exploration and comparison across countries. The succinct but informative text provides helpful background information and explanation for the observed data. The graphic presents a great example of how exploration and explanation can go hand in hand with a unique visual.

Unequal-Access-to-Higher-Ed ALICE FENG revised.png