Data and Research

At a time when college students are graduating with record amounts of debt and facing the highest unemployment rate in recent history, it is not surprising that the national survey of young adults (18-34 years old) released today found strong bipartisan opposition to charging students with financial need interest on their federal loans while they are still in school.

Yet this is exactly what House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently proposed, and some have speculated that the so-called Supercommittee may be considering this as a way to reduce the deficit.  However, this proposal would simply shift the debt burden from the federal government to young people and adults working to get the education and training they need to compete in today’s economy.

Removing the interest subsidy on federal Stafford loans for undergraduates with financial need would increase the cost of college by thousands of dollars at the same time that the interest rate on these loans is scheduled to double from 3.4% to 6.8%, further increasing student debt burdens.

Just how much more would eliminating the in-school interest subsidy cost students who take out the maximum subsidized student loan amount and graduate in six years?

  • The scheduled doubling of the interest rate alone will cost them $4,600 more if they repay over 10 years and $10,400 more if they repay over 20 years.
  • The doubling of the interest rate combined with the elimination of the in-school interest subsidy would cost them $6,250 more when they start repayment (after the six-month grace period), $13,250 more over 10 years, and $21,850 more over a 20-year repayment period.

Rather than entirely eliminating the in-school interest subsidy on subsidized student loans and directing the savings to deficit reduction, the Senate FY2012 Labor-HHS appropriations bill proposes eliminating the interest subsidy during the six-month grace period after a student leaves school and using those savings to fully fund the Pell Grant program.

How much more would eliminating the interest subsidy during the grace period cost students who take out the maximum subsidized student loan amount and graduate in six years, assuming the interest rate doubles, as scheduled, to 6.8%?  Allowing interest to accrue during the grace period would cost these students almost $800 more by the time they enter repayment, $1,100 more if they repay their loan over 10 years, and $1,450 more if they repay their loan over 20 years.

The Senate Appropriators proposed this change in order to fully fund the Pell Grant program, but the House Budget Committee is blocking the Senate from using all the savings to fund Pell Grants next year.  This means that students would face larger debt loads and the Pell Grant program would still have a $900 million budget gap in FY2012.

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The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) just released new data on six-year college persistence and graduation rates for students who began college in 2003-04. These data provide a rarely seen glimpse of how beginning college students fare within six years of college enrollment, regardless of whether they enroll full- or part-time or whether they change schools. The data present a more complete picture of college outcomes than the annual graduation rates calculated through IPEDS, which look only at first-time, full-time students and only count completions at the first institution attended. For example, these new data show that 39 percent of all beginning college students completed a degree or certificate at their first institution within six years, but another 11 percent obtained a degree or certificate within that time period at a different institution.

Overall, the new data confirm a number of completion trends that researchers have consistently found: full-time students are more likely to persist and/or complete (70 percent) than part-time students (29 percent), as are students who go to college soon after high school (73 percent) compared to those who delay enrollment (51 percent). The data also further document that students who enroll at for-profit colleges have less favorable outcomes than those enrolling at other colleges. Students who started at for-profit colleges in 2003-04 were much less likely to persist and/or complete than those who started at other types of colleges. More than three-quarters of students starting at public and non-profit four-year colleges persist and/or complete (78 percent and 81 percent, respectively), compared to less than half of students who first enrolled at for-profit 4-year colleges (45 percent).

Students starting at public and nonprofit 2-year colleges have roughly comparable persistence and completion rates (54 and 57 percent respectively) as those starting at for-profit 2-year colleges (49 percent), but students from public and nonprofit colleges are more likely to complete credentials with higher value. Twelve percent of students starting at community colleges ended up completing a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to almost no students (0.5 percent) at for-profit 2-year colleges.1 The majority of college completions at community college are associate’s degrees, while the majority of college completions at for-profit colleges are certificates below the associate’s degree level.2 While this new dataset doesn’t break down certificates by length, other data suggest that about half of the certificates awarded by for-profit colleges are less than one year in length – short-term certificates with questionable value in the workforce.

These low completion and persistence rates, along with completions of little value, are especially significant because almost all students attending for-profit colleges take out student loans – more than students at other types of colleges – and have to repay that debt regardless of whether they complete.3

We will continue to mine these new data over the coming months. The last time this type of data was available was eight years ago, for students who began college in 1995-96.

Note: This blog post was revised on June 15, 2011. The initial December post was based on a published NCES report, and the full survey data on which the NCES report was based has since been released. This allowed for more detailed analysis, which is reflected above.


1 Calculations by The Institute for College Access & Success on data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2003-04 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, Second Follow-up (BPS:04/09).

2 Calculations by The Institute for College Access & Success on data from the U.S. Department of Education, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

3 Calculations by The Institute for College Access & Success on data from the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

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A recently released report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) presents the most up-to-date data from the U.S. Department of Education on student financial aid, graduation rates, enrollment, and finances at postsecondary institutions.

We at the Project on Student Debt will continue to analyze these data in detail in the coming months, but one fact from the NCES report jumped out at me - graduation rates for first-time full-time students at for-profit four-year schools fell by 35% while the graduation rates at other four-year schools stayed level.1 Only 22% of bachelor’s or equivalent degree-seekers who entered for-profit four-year schools in 2002 obtained their degree within 6 years (150% of normal time), compared to 34% of bachelor’s degree seekers entering for-profit four-year schools in 2000. The for-profit school graduation rate was already dramatically lower than the public and private non-profit graduation rates, but now it is less than half the rate at either of the other types of four-year colleges. See the table below for detailed figures:


CCC Graph

1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Graduation Rates component, Spring 2009. Tables 6 and 7 in “Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008; Graduation Rates, 2002 and 2005 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2008.” Note that these graduation rates do not include transfers-out. This table has been updated to reflect NCES revisions to Table 7. Diane Cheng Research Associate

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CIS Screenshot Today we are launching a unique new web site for higher education data and research. College InSight (www.college-insight.org) will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in college affordability, student debt, economic and racial diversity, student success, and other important issues in higher education. The site replaces and improves upon our previous campus-level data site, EconomicDiversity.org.

College InSight provides user-friendly profiles with detailed information for almost 5,000 U.S. colleges and universities, and aggregates data to create totals and averages for states, types of schools, and other groupings. Compare colleges, states, and more based on important issues:

  • Affordability: tuition and the total cost of attendance; how students cover costs through federal, state, and college grant aid, as well as student loans; average student debt levels; colleges' use of need- and merit-based aid.
  • Diversity: data on the racial and ethnic diversity of both students and faculty; indicators of student economic diversity, such as the percentage of undergraduates who received federal Pell Grants and the income distribution of students who applied for financial aid.
  • Student success: graduation rates and the number of degrees and certificates awarded.

Please check out the site, and use it to find information the next time you're looking for college-level data. We will be continually making improvements to the site, and welcome your feedback and suggestions.

Visit College InSight

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New federal data show that the percentage of all undergraduate students who borrowed private student loans jumped from 5 percent in 2003-04, to 14 percent in 2007-08. At proprietary (for-profit) colleges and universities, the percentage of students who took out these loans skyrocketed from 13 percent in the 2003-04 school year, to 42 percent last year.

Private student loans are typically more expensive than federal student loans, with higher, variable interest rates and far fewer options for borrowers in repayment. Even though financial aid experts agree that these loans should be used only as a last resort, one in four private student loan borrowers in 2007-08 didn’t take out any federal Stafford loans that year. Federal Stafford loans are available to almost all students, regardless of income.

“These data are troubling because private student loans are more like credit cards than financial aid, and have very little in common with federal student loans,” said Lauren Asher, Acting President of the Institute for College Access & Success, which runs the Project on Student Debt. “Too many students are missing out on federal loans and going straight to one of the riskiest borrowing options.”

Students at proprietary schools of all levels and private nonprofit four-year schools are disproportionately represented among private student loan borrowers in 2007-08. Only about 13 percent of all undergraduates attend nonprofit four-year schools, but they make up 22 percent of all private loan borrowers. About 9 percent of undergraduates attend proprietary schools, but they represent 27 percent of private loan borrowers.

These data reflect borrowing levels before the credit crunch, which hit the private student loan industry hard in the spring of 2008. Still, lenders aggressively market private loans directly to students, and although private loans are more likely now to require a co-signer and a higher credit score, these loans are still available, especially from large banks.

“Unfortunately, private loan borrowers remain at the mercy of their lenders if they are having trouble making payments in these tough times,” said Asher. The Project on Student Debt supports stronger consumer protections for private loans, such as clearer disclosure of terms for prospective borrowers and fair treatment of this risky debt in bankruptcy, positions outlined in their 2009 Policy Agenda.

The figures in this release were calculated by the Project on Student Debt using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a federal survey of college students conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics that was released last week. The data reflect borrowing activity by undergraduate students who are US citizens or permanent residents, during one academic year at all types of postsecondary institutions. The data should not be confused with cumulative figures for graduating seniors, which will not be released until next month. The Project on Student Debt will calculate and release more facts about student debt at that time.

Click here for quick facts about private borrowing

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Matthew Reed, a Policy Analyst at the Institute for College Access & Success guest blogs this week at Higher Ed Watch, a higher education news and policy initiative from the New America Foundation.

Student debt is up again, according to the data that we at the Project on Student Debt released today. One of the lessons we have learned from putting together these reports for the past three years is just how difficult it is to get timely and accurate information about students' loans. Congress and the next leadership of the U.S. Department of Education could take some simple steps to improve that situation. For our purposes, the most useful data comes from annual surveys of colleges by college guide publishers such as Peterson's. The utility of this data, however, is limited because so much of the information is missing or unreliable. Colleges self-report and many fail to respond to the survey on an annual basis, resulting in missing or repeated data. In addition, colleges use different methodologies to calculate these figures, depending on the capabilities of their data systems and the expertise and interest of the staff members responsible for filling the surveys out. While student debt figures for some schools stay the same for years as no one bothers to update them, at other schools, they fluctuate wildly from year to year as staff turn over or new software is used make the latest calculations. The Department of Education maintains a database tracking students loans -- the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). Unfortunately, the Department doesn't make sufficient use of it. At the Project on Student Debt, we believe that expanding the information entered into this system and the reports generated from this system would go a long way toward providing more useful information for policymakers, student borrowers, and the public. Judging by the legislation authorizing NSLDS, Congress clearly expected the Department to use the database to not only provide lenders and institutions with the information necessary to operate the loan programs, but to provide borrowers with information about their own loans and policymakers with information about student borrowing generally. The Higher Education Act directs the Department to use the database in part for research and policy analysis regarding student debt levels. This includes analyzing factors such as family income and the type of institution attended. It also identifies providing information to student borrowers about the current status of their loans as another important purpose of the system. As of now, Department officials have made very limited use of the database for these purposes. The agency currently uses NSLDS to calculate cohort default rates for colleges, and to report on the aggregate student loan volume, broken down by program (Direct Lending versus the Federal Family Education Loan Program for example), type (federally subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loans, for example), state, and sector of higher education (two year versus four year schools, for instance). While this is useful information about the overall size and growth of these programs, it does not give us any indication of the debt burden faced by students at particular institutions. The Department needs to make much more detailed data on student borrowing available. Using NSLDS, the Department should publish the following information each year: - Loan volume by loan program and loan type for each institution (unsubsidized/subsidized Stafford loans, PLUS loans, etc.) - Average cumulative debt levels for students graduating from college each year at the state, national, and institutional levels - Average cumulative debt levels for students leaving college without completing a degree or certificate program - Data on borrowing patterns by income level and level of demonstrated financial need - Data on borrowing patterns by students who receive federal Pell Grants These statistics would provide valuable and timely information to policymakers regarding trends in student borrowing and indebtedness. Moreover, we believe that publishing this data would provide some accountability for institutions regarding the way in which they package student loans. But to truly get an accurate picture of student borrowing trends, one additional step is needed - because private student loans, which up until recently have been the fastest growing form of student loans, are not currently included in NSLDS. We are urging Congress to require lenders to report all the private loans they make to NSLDS. Such a requirement would be beneficial to both students and policymakers. As of now, we don't know the full extent of private loan borrowing that is occurring. In many cases, these high-cost loans are marketed directly to students and neither the institutions nor any government agency is aware that they have been made. As a result, students often take out these loans without realizing that lower-cost federal loans are available. Requiring the inclusion of private loans in NSLDS would fit in perfectly with one of the main purposes of the database: to give borrowers a place to go to see all of their student loans. It is important for borrowers to have access to information on the current holders and servicers of their loans, as well as the current balance and payments due. They should be able to see this information for all of their loans, not just federal ones. Students are often unclear on the distinctions between the different programs under which they borrow, especially when the loans may come from the same lender. Only later during repayment do many students realize the importance of knowing which lender holds their loans and what program it was made under. As student debt levels continue to increase, it is crucial that policymakers and the public have accurate, timely information about patterns of student borrowing. The Department of Education should use the data already available in NSLDS to provide this information. In addition, lenders should be required to report private student loans to NSLDS. Taken together, these steps will ensure that students and policymakers have the information they need to make good decisions regarding student loans.

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By Hilda Hernández-Gravelle, Senior Research Fellow "It is like the white house on the top of the hill," a staff member I interviewed at a community college said to describe the way many Latino / Hispanic students and their families view financial aid. The idea of receiving a free scholarship or financial assistance that does not need to be repaid seems too good to be true. Consequently, sometimes students do not apply for the financial aid they are eligible for. There are other cultural factors for Latinos that can contribute to difficulties securing financial aid services and become impediments to college access. Some of these include: fear of debt; mistrust of lenders; and conflicts between family financial obligations and educational aspirations. While Latinos generally have a strong commitment to education, many believe that if you can't afford to pay for it up front, you can't attend. Such assumptions, along with a lack of awareness in the higher education sector about other cultural differences, make college seem unattainable to students who might otherwise be able to attend. The Los Angeles Times published an excellent story on this phenomenon in January 2007.

Attention to the challenges faced by Latinos in higher education is beginning to grow in the college access field. The Lumina Foundation just completed an important dynamic rich media report and web site on access and success for Latinos. Excelencia in Education also recently released survey results on enrollment and attainment for Latino students. The Chicano Studies Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles released a report at the beginning of this month on the "mismatch" between Latino students’ aspirations and experiences titled, "An Examination of Latina/o Transfer Students in California's Postsecondary Institutions."

At the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, held in Orange County California in March 2007, Mari Luna De La Rosa and I presented The Strategy of Debt: How Hispanic Students Pay for College.This presentation introduced financial aid data and cultural factors that affect how Hispanic students use available aid. In an interactive presentation, we heard the perspectives of financial aid service providers and college administrators, highlighting the need to be aware of and responsive to cultural differences in financial aid service delivery.

The presentation was well-attended and received, demonstrating the need for dissemination of information that shapes understanding of financial aid among different groups. Given the debt aversion that exists among Hispanic students, and the resulting impact on college access, the Institute will explore how to better inform Hispanic students, families and administrators about college costs, debt, and the financing of higher education.

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By Deborah Frankle, Research Analyst Tuition discounting is the practice of using institutional aid to adjust tuition levels to best match what students and families are willing to pay, a widespread trend that is tracked by annual reports from the College Board. We recently used publicly-available federal data to get a sense of the phenomenon at private four-year institutions, and were surprised to find that almost half of private, four-year institutions with at least 1,000 students provide discounts to 90% or more of their students. Four out of five colleges (83%) provided discounts to at least half of their students. In many cases, the average discount was quite large. What does this mean? Actual discounting strategies vary dramatically between colleges, and the numbers above do not distinguish between need-based and merit-based aid. Some colleges use their institutional aid to help meet the financial need of low-income students, increasing access; others use it to attract students with less or no need who serve to maximize the prestige of the institution. Because we cannot distinguish between pricing and aid strategies at individual colleges, we cannot say for sure. But one recent analysis suggests that the overall picture is troubling: institutional aid, a larger source of financial aid than state and federal aid combined, goes to higher-income students at rates far exceeding those of federal and state aid. For dependent students, 46% of institutional need-based grant funding went to those with family income above the median, compared to 3% of federal aid. Why is this interesting? These issues bring up a number of questions: • When institutional aid ($10 billion) far outweighs federal and state aid combined ($7 billion), what does it mean for college access that institutional aid tilts to those with higher incomes? (NPSAS, dependent students only) • What does 'need-based' aid mean when it’s almost evenly distributed across all income levels? • What is the point of tuition increases when almost all students receive a discount? Does the "sticker shock" of high tuition scare low-income students away before they learn about available discounts? • Should detailed institution-level data on discounting practices be made public? Other resources on this topic: Tuition Discounting, Not Just a Private College Practice, College Board Tuition Discounting and Prudent Enrollment Management, Association of Governing Boards

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The economicdiversity.org database includes campus-by-campus data on the total student loan debt of graduating seniors. The numbers come from the Common Data Set, and are reported by the campuses to the various publishers of college guides. The instructions to campuses tell them to include private loans in the total. But at a recent meeting between campus data-keepers and the publishers, it became clear that some campuses have a better handle than others on the amount of private loans being made to their students. To be clearer about the totals in future data collections, the Common Data Set will, in the future, ask campuses to provide separate totals for federal and private loans; some campuses will input a "not available" in the private loan field. One solution to this data problem would be for the feds to require that private loans be certified by the college in order to qualify for the tax deduction on student loan interest. That way, financial aid administrators would be able to track who has private loans, and how much students have truly borrowed. They would also be able to check to make sure that the student isn't making a mistake by signing up for a high-rate or otherwise undesirable loan. This might also help borrowers down the line, since many don't know the differences between federal and private loans, and are unclear as to which they have. If aid administrators had more information, they could more easily advise students about the risks and tradeoffs of alternative loans.

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Another source of useful data on college students' family income is the CIRP Freshman Survey, developed by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA. Each year, colleges across the country administer the CIRP survey to their incoming freshmen, asking them about a range of topics, including family income. HERI compiles the responses into a national report. Each participating campus receives its own results along with comparisons to peer institutions. Campuses decide whether to make their own reports available, and some have done so. For example, Emory University has made selected findings from its 2005 survey available online. The report indicates that a majority of the students have parents with graduate degrees, and 39% report family incomes of more than $200,000, a larger proportion than peer institutions. In comparison, Northwestern University's report shows 30% of freshmen with family incomes above $200,000, and 63% above $100,000. Compare those figures with Census data showing that only 3.5% of families in the U.S. earn more than $200,000, and only 20% earn more than $100,000. Other campuses that have posted some or all of their Freshman Survey results are listed below. A note and link also appear on these campuses' institutional profiles at economicdiversity.org. Full reports Berea College, 2004 Cornell University, multiple years Hampden-Sydney College, 2000 Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2001 Iowa State University, 2003 Northwestern University, 2005 Purdue University, multiple years University of Minnesota, multiple years Executive summaries/partial data: Bryn Mawr College, 2004 (Full data for selected categories, not socio-economic) Calvin College, 2002 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) Case Western Reserve University, 2000 (one-page summary, no socio-economic data) Central Washington University, 1998 (summary, includes socio-economic data) Dartmouth College, 2003 (selected findings, summary of socio-economic data) East Texas Baptist University, 2002 (executive summary, sparse socio-economic details) Emory University, 2003 (selected findings, includes socio-economic data) Florida International University, 2000 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) Massachussets Institute of Technology, 1998 (selected findings, summary of socio-economic data) Montclair State Unversity, 1991 and 2001 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) Morningside College, 2004 (highlights in powerpoint presentation) Oklahoma State University, multiple years (selected findings, some socio-economic data) Oregon State University, 2002 (executive summary, sparse socio-economic data) Roanoke College, 2002 (some socio-economic data, all in percentages) Southwest Minnesota State University, 2003 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) Sweet Briar College, 2004 (summary, no socio-economic data) Texas State University at San Marcos, 2000 (summary, some socio-economic data) Texas Tech University, 2003 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) University of California at Santa Cruz, 2002 (executive summary, sparse socio-economic data) University of Idaho, 2002 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1999-2004 (summary graphs, some socio-economic data) University of North Dakota, 2002 (summary, no socio-economic data) University of South Carolina, 1999 (selected findings, includes socio-economic data) University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 2004 (executive summary, some socio-economic data) Want to know whether a particular campus has participated in the CIRP survey? See the list of CIRP participating campuses. If you know of a school not listed here whose CIRP data is public, please comment on this thread and post a link.

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