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Federal education data highlights rising college costs for low-income students

If you’re shopping for a college, forget the published sticker price. Just like airline passengers on the same flight, students on the same campus can pay vastly different rates.

And on the whole, those rates are increasing faster for the poorest students.

That’s what a Dallas Morning News analysis of federal education data found this year. In a project with the Hechinger Report, we examined four years of data showing what students actually paid, based on their family income. We produced several stories and an online search tool called Tuition Tracker.  

The inequity was most glaring at the ...

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Medical examiner databases shed light on North Carolina’s death investigation system

Tom Cooper died face down in a pool of blood on his kitchen floor. Virginia Gregg was found dead in her closet. And a co-worker discovered Fred Lookabill dead on the steps of his front porch.

North Carolina medical examiners ruled all three died from natural causes.

They were wrong.

Forget what you've seen on television dramas. North Carolina's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner investigates suspicious deaths much like it did 40 years ago.

Medical examiners don't rush to the scene. (They don't go at all 90 percent of the time.)

They don't wield ...

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Multiple data sets used to track fugitives who go free

In December 2011, a man fleeing from a drug robbery shot and killed New York City police officer Peter Figoski. New York reacted with understandable outrage, particularly when newspapers there revealed that the officer’s killer, Lamont Pride, should have been in jail at the time.

The police in Greensboro, N.C. were already after Pride on charges that he had shot another man during an argument. But when Pride ...

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Journalists share tips for obtaining personally identifiable information

Data with personally identifiable information are an invaluable tool for reporters nationwide. For beat reporters and veteran investigative journalists alike, information such as names, birth dates and addresses can make or break a story. But access to such information isn’t guaranteed, with laws that restrict the public’s access a regular source of frustration. And bills adding to those restrictions are introduced regularly.

But short of lobbying state legislatures for changes in the law, what can journalists do to get the data they request? What are some techniques and methods that journalists have used to negotiate successfully for data ...

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Data highlights unequal FEMA aid distribution in Colorado

There is a staggering number of federal disaster relief agencies; about 70 in all. Every one of them descended on Colorado last September.

The rapid fall of seventeen inches of rain created home-destroying mudslides, swelled rivers to historic levels and killed at least eight residents. Our station and other media outlets scrambled to cover the chaos in real time. The stories were about human survival and devastating financial loss, but also about hope and faith in something greater.  

When the waters receded, our investigative unit refocused on a broader concept – financial aid.

There was no shortage of money coming in ...

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Data analysis reveals brokers with disciplinary problems still selling securities

During his 15-year run in the securities business, Kenneth Dwyer peddled stock for a half dozen firms that were later booted from the business by regulators.

Collectively, the shuttered and defunct firms that Dwyer worked for had left thousands of investors with alleged losses and unpaid claims totaling more than $85 million, according to court documents and lawyers.

Our analysis of never-before compiled industry regulatory records revealed that Dwyer was one of more than 5,000 brokers who were still selling securities in early 2013 after working for firms expelled by regulators since 2005. We found 610 brokers who, like ...

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Nurses with criminal records allowed to keep working in Minn.

Our data-driven investigation, “When Nurses Fail,” found that hundreds of nurses with records of unsafe practice, patient harm, criminal charges or convictions continue to practice in Minnesota. A state monitoring program for drug-addicted health professionals allowed nurses to continue despite abusing drugs or alcohol, stealing from their patients and failing numerous drug tests.

Nurses with histories of drug use, crime or neglect were able to obtain licenses and find jobs because of flaws in the state background check system. Patients were unaware that their nurses had troubled backgrounds. One parent inadvertently hired a nurse with a history of making crystal ...

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How to use free tools to create and display online polls

Online polls provide quick and easy ways to invite audience engagement in stories. The only problem is that few polling tools are ideal; either they lack flexibility, or they just don't look very nice.

Take PollDaddy. It's great at polls, but you're only allowed one question per poll (a survey allows more questions, but displaying the results isn't as nice). You also need a corporate account to get a lot of the options that make it attractive, and not all publications have the budget for it.

Google Forms also allows multiple-question polling, but once again the ...

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Database used to highlight lax police misconduct oversight

We knew early in our investigation of Long Island police misconduct that police officers had committed dozens of disturbing offenses, ranging from cops who shot unarmed people to those who lied to frame the innocent. We also knew that New York state has some of the weakest oversight in the country.

What we didn’t know was if anyone had ever tried to change that. We suspected that the legislature, which reaps millions in contributions from law enforcement unions, hadn’t passed an attempt to rein in cops in years. But we needed to know for sure, and missing even ...

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Financial data shows Okla. hospitals spend little on charity care

The idea to look at hospital finances and charity care came shortly after Oklahoma decided against expanding its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

After the state’s decision, the Oklahoma Hospital Association and others warned that the state’s hospitals – especially small rural hospitals – were already operating on slim budgets and the decision not to expand Medicaid and give more people health coverage would make the situation worse, including leading to closure of some hospitals.

To test this claim, Oklahoma Watch set out to get financial data for each hospital in the state. Along the way, we also ...

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