Where to Find Data Sets to Use in Class

Faculty who’ve taught data analytics share their best sources of data.

October 11, 2016

In August, I attended the American Accounting Association Annual Meeting in New York City, where I discovered that many accounting faculty members are thinking about teaching data analytics. To teach this subject, naturally, you need access to data—but, since data analytics is such a new area of accounting education, most textbook publishers have yet to offer data sets for classroom use.

Fortunately, data sets are relatively easy to come by—you just need to know where to look. Faculty who’ve already taught data analytics recommended the following sources:

Government data. Federal, state, and some local governments provide a wealth of publicly available, open-source data. Ann Dzuranin, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor at Northern Illinois University, said her students used the City of Chicago Data Portal to locate payroll and road maintenance data for their projects. (She cautioned, though, that some government data are “dirty data”: data that contain gaps, duplications, inconsistencies, and other errors. You may want to “clean” the data—or have your students do so—before using them.)


Data.gov: Contains 186,000 data sets from a broad range of government agencies. Offerings include everything from small business lending to coastal flooding to health care spending. 

City of Chicago Data Portal: Has data on a wide variety of subjects: vendor payments, census findings, building permits, land inventory, and much more. 

NYC Open Data: Hosts more than 1,500 data sets on government, health, education, public safety, and other topics.

Ohio’s Online Checkbook: Has data on state spending, sortable by agency, expense type, vendor, time frame, and more.

Software vendors. Data analytics and visualization software typically comes with free data sets to work with.


SAP (Software is free for schools that join SAP’s University Alliances.)

SAS (University Edition software is free.)

Tableau (Tableau Desktop is free for faculty and students.)

Your school: If your institution is public, it may publish its data on topics such as income, expenditures, gifts, enrollments, and more. Some university libraries’ websites have pages listing links to data sets (check out Cornell University’s, University of California, Berkeley’s, and the University of Georgia’s, for example). You may also be able to ask your university store or cafeteria for transaction data, though you should obtain the appropriate permissions and review your school’s data use policy first. 

Thank you to AAA speakers Dzuranin; Jon Davis, CPA (inactive), Ph.D., professor and department head at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; D. Scott Showalter, CPA, CGMA, professor of practice, North Carolina State University; Myles Stern, Ph.D., associate professor and Department of Accounting chair, Wayne State University; and David Wood, Ph.D., associate professor, Brigham Young University, for their recommendations.

Courtney Vien is lead editor of Extra Credit.

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