Can one visualize cosmopolitanism of college students?

Draft of 2012.03.07 ☛ 2015.12.12

May include: other&c.

I’m reminded of a GIS visualization I wanted to see when we were traveling through little college towns in Ohio and Indiana and Kentucky the other day.

We all know colleges and universities draw students from all over. But some surely tend to draw from a more local population, and others from a more global population.

Ignore for a moment the graduate and postdoc and young faculty populations, which are what you might call “seller’s markets” for the time being. For a given institution of higher learning, suppose we draw a linear connection (on a map) to the home of each student. Suppose we aggregate these a bit, perhaps by hierarchical clustering; a big bunch of students at Miami University probably come from the Cincinnati area, a bunch from central Ohio, a smaller but significant bunch from the Cleveland and Toledo areas, a pile from Indianapolis or whatever.

And here’s where I can’t get past “spaghetti tumble” mode. How can one visualize these flows, without discarding the long tail of unusual cases? I know about the Forbes migration visualization, but that has a one-county-at-a-time thing going on; what could one do with cunningly colored and/or shaped polygons or something?

What I’m wondering, I suppose, is something about the character of college towns. You can see something very close to my suspicions in the Forbes map: click two adjacent counties, say Preble County Ohio (rural) and Butler County Ohio (rural with college town). Notice the difference?

How might one show that sort of thing all at once, and not on a county-by-county level but on a town-by-town scale, and not on the basis of population migration but on student’s homes?

Because the people we’re making—the adults we’re making—in these college towns are very, very different from one another, in my experience. I wonder if self-assortment, diversity of experience and mutual exposure, and echo chambers have something important to say about it.