Rising tuition prices at Bucknell are not as bad as represented

The tuition graphic in the Bucknellian was not statistically accurate

Statistical analysis can be a very useful practice when completed correctly. Yet recently, the Bucknellian depicted tuition rates rising on the front page using a graph that gives false data to the readers.

The article, entitled University Cost To Increase by 3.9% to $67,136 for 2017-18 Academic Year, was featured on the front page of the April 14th issue of the Bucknellian. While the article correctly reported the rise of tuition, its graph accompanying the article was not statistically accurate and portrayed the change in tuition to be more drastic than it is.

The graph in the Bucknellian

In exploratory statistics it is standard for histograms to have the same bar width in order to ensure accurate comparison of the data. In the Bucknellian graph, however, width of the 2010-2011 bar is more than half that of the 2017-2018 bar. This leads to a misrepresentation of the change in tuition costs.

The Tab spoke to statistics Professor Nathan Ryan who criticized the Bucknellian’s graph, saying, “They’re growing both the height and the width, but they should only be growing the height.”

The lack of a uniform dollar axis results in bars that have unknown heights and depicts an increase in tuition by identical units when in reality the rise in tuition varies each year. The Bucknellian’s representation of tuition increase makes it look as if tuition has doubled since 2010 when in fact, the change is incremental over each year increasing by only about $15,000 over the last seven years. A more accurate representation is shown in the graph below:  

We are not trying to negate the issue of a rise in tuition. Clearly, there is a notable difference between $52,000 and $67,000 per year. While the overall price of tuition might be steep, the increase in price is much more gradual than assumed before. The price is important, but for this data it is more important to see the difference overtime.

That being said, the graph that accompanies an article whose intent is to accurately inform the reader. The media’s job is to ensure readers are correctly informed in current events, even on something as simple as a histogram informing tuition increases. It is unethical to release statistics that are misrepresentative, yet every day media outlets misrepresent data through statistics, losing the ultimate purpose of the article.

Our new graph may not be as pretty as the original, but you can see much more accurately how the tuition prices have changed overtime. It is important to stay updated in the news on campus, but it is also important to make sure the data you’re reading is accurate. Misinformation may lead you to believe something that isn’t true.

Bucknell University