This week, Google enhanced its Search function to provide helpful, detailed profiles of colleges.
Addressing the public’s increasing concerns about costs, career placement, and general return on investment in higher ed, the new profiles include data on average costs, graduation rates, and typical post-graduate incomes.
When accessed via a mobile device, Google searches on college names now generate impressive dashboards of information, organized by tabs such as Cost, Majors, Outcomes, Rankings, and Similar Colleges.
Google says they designed the user experience after consulting with researchers, non-profit organizations, high school counselors, and admissions professionals. Currently, the new search works best on mobile devices, but some of the features are also available via desktop.
Most of the displayed data is provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). For now, the new Search feature only applies to four-year colleges, which are the only type recorded in IPEDS.
In their announcement, Google explained their rationale for providing this service:
“For many, selecting the right college is an early and important step in preparing for the future. The process to find the right school for you, however, can be confusing. Information is scattered across the internet, and it’s not always clear what factors to consider and which pieces of information will be most useful for your decision…. That’s why we’re bringing a new feature to search.”
And thus Google has quickly empowered student-consumers in their college selection processes. Granted, the profile data has always been available elsewhere, and much of it already informs rankings such as the all-important lists created by US News and World Report, but now the data is front and center on millions of phones. Look for college administrators to fret more than ever about improving their cost, graduation, and income statistics–and to make sure they’re reporting it all to IPEDS properly.
And what’s in it for Google? It’s not clear yet, but we know they never deploy features without good, self-serving business reasons behind them. Consider that Google will probably recognize users performing these searches (due to cookies or other tracking features on devices), and therefore may be able to expand its analytics profiles of students as it monitors their academic interests. As we know from Facebook’s recent scandals, databases of detailed user profiles can be quite valuable, especially those from younger demographics.
Meanwhile, as Google becomes a go-to resource for yet another aspect of daily research, it can enhance its core advertisting function within the higher education space, providing sponsored ads for schools on the phones of specifically-targeted students.