CSUN webmasters have created the College Portraits website, which compares the undergraduate experience among universities, and holds public universities accountable for the handling of their finances.
The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) was created to make information about universities easy for the public to access. What began as a way for universities to openly display how they allocate their finances became a practical tool for prospective students. Through the website collegeportraits.org, prospective students can compare universities and find what campus will fit them best as far as community lifestyle, academic quality, and career preparation.
Erik Farris, media relations specialist for the CSU Chancellors office said the CSU system is trying to make their information transparent, where students can easily access information regarding their campus, the resources available, and its institutional demographics.
“This is really a tool for those who are interested in what public institutions have to offer,” Farris said. Students and prospective students can find information on the website such as how much the university costs, the undergraduate success rate of the school and the area of study with the largest number of bachelors degrees awarded.
“We do not release individual student information, we release aggregate information.” Farris said.
He added that the website has been getting a positive reaction from the public, and it is a useful tool to keep the public informed about how their money is being allocated in the universities.
The website was produced and developed by CSUN webmasters, who spent about a year developing and researching for the website before it was officially launched.
Brian Miller, web developer for Collegeportraits.org said they are trying to make the research process more accessible to students.
“There is a lot of data in there, and it was originally intended to be an accountability tool so it is very institutional research orientated,” Miller said.
He added that they trying to add more search functionality into the website, to make it easier for students to ask questions. If the search functionality is added to the website, students can ask questions without necessarily having to navigate the website for the answer.
“The biggest problem is you do not want to create disparity between institutions in the way it is reported where some institutions may look better than others. This was designed to create a common, equal reporting method and try to manage the spin,” Miller said.
Kimon Rethis, web producer for Collegeportraits.org, is in charge of the layout and design of the website.
“The head of the VSA was looking for web development; it was a PDF file, a kind of a legacy development format,” he said. “They knew they wanted to go to an online form and part of the reason was accessibility.”
Rethis had to present the website in a way so the public can easily navigate it and absorb the information.
“It had its origins as an institutional reporting tool that relatively had a narrow cast, but because the data is so rich, it is clear that it needs to flower,” Rethis said.