A report released today by Demos, a New York public policy think tank, attempts to identify the reasons why tuition prices at public four-year institutions have increased over the last decade. The findings reinforce the understanding that declining state support, rather than “administrative bloat,” is the primary cause of tuition increases. Although administrative spending did increase marginally, the authors attribute the slight change to rising health care costs and to new support services required over the past decade – such as those to support growing technology needs.
The report analyzed data from the Delta Cost Project and examined research institutions separately from institutions that primarily award bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Between 2001 and 2011, state funding per student fell by $3,081 at research universities and, simultaneously, tuition per student increased “in near lockstep,” by $3,628. Consequently, the majority of funding formerly provided by the state is now borne by students and their families.
The Causes of Rising Tuition at Public Research Universities
(taken from Figure 6 in the report)
As seen in the figure above, of the tuition hikes at public research universities:
- 79 percent is attributable to declining state appropriations,
- 9 percent is due to higher instruction costs (largely the result of rising health insurance premiums)
- 6 percent is due to more construction costs, and
- 6 percent is due to increased administrative spending.
With regards to “administrative bloat” – which some still view as a key driver of tuition increases – the report finds that “the number of executives and administrators has actually slightly decreased relative to the size of the student body” and the average number of total employees per 1,000 students has remained relatively constant over the last decade.
Instead, public institutions are employing more part-time faculty and professional staff (e.g. employees who work in admissions, human resources, information technology, etc.). “All of these things are necessary to support the growing university,” said Robbie Hiltonsmith, the report’s author. Hiltonsmith also noted that when state funding for higher education declines, colleges can either raise tuition to make up for the forgone revenue or look for ways to trim expenses. “If there isn’t a lot of fat to cut, then their only option is to raise tuition or lose quality of education.”
 On average, the amount spent by public universities to provide health insurance to staff and faculty rose by nearly $2,700 per employee between 2001 and 2011, a 40 percent increase.
A new report from the Brookings Institution concludes that student loan borrowers may not be in such a dire situation as media reports commonly suggest. The report, Is a Student Loan Crisis on the Horizon?, finds that while student debt levels have risen along with college tuition over the past two decades, college graduates’ incomes have kept pace. The authors analyze data on student borrowers over the period 1989-2010. They conclude that education debt has not become a greater burden on borrowing households.
- Education debt increased most among households with higher levels of educational attainment. Roughly one-quarter of the increase in student debt can be explained by an increase in the number of households with college degrees, especially graduate degrees. Since 1989, student borrowers with graduate degrees saw their average debt level increase from about $10,000 to about $40,000. Over the same time, the debt level for borrowers with bachelor’s degrees increased by a smaller margin, from $6,000 to $16,000.
- On average, student borrowers’ incomes more than kept pace with increases in student debt. While average household debt increased by about $18,000 between 1992 and 2010, average annual household income for borrowers increased by about $7,400 over that same period. The average increase in earnings would pay for the increase in debt incurred in just 2.4 years.
- The ratio of monthly debt payments to monthly income has held steady. Between 1992 and 2010, the median borrowing household consistently paid between three and four percent of monthly income toward student debt. The mean monthly payment decreased from 15 percent to 7 percent of income over that period.
Student debt levels have increased over the past two decades. The authors conclude that this is largely driven by tuition increases over that time. However, higher levels of student borrowing also partly reflect an investment in higher levels of education. For the average borrower, that investment pays off in higher incomes.
Overall student debt levels of recent bachelor’s degree recipients continue to rise according to Student Debt and the Class of 2013, a new report from the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). The report includes 2013 state- and college-level debt data for graduates from colleges that opt to disclose their graduates’ debt. However, since very few for-profit colleges choose to disclose debt data, the report’s figures represent only public and nonprofit colleges.
- At the national level, 69 percent of graduating seniors had student loans and those that borrowed had an average debt of $28,400 – a 2 percent increase over 2012. For comparison, in 2013, 50 percent of UW undergraduates graduated with debt, and those that borrowed graduated with an average debt load of $21,471.
- At the state level, borrowers’ average debt at graduation ranged from $18,656 to $32,795, and the likelihood of graduating with debt ranged from 43 to 76 percent. In six states, average debt was greater than $30,000; in one state, it was under $20,000. Nearly all the highest debt states were in the Northeast and Midwest, with the lowest debt states in the West and South. In Washington, 58 percent of graduates had debt, and those that borrowed had an average of $24,418 in loans. Debbie Cochrane, research director at TICAS and coauthor of the report, says, “The importance of state policy and investment cannot be overstated when it comes to student debt levels.”
- At the college level, borrowers’ average debt at graduation varied widely – ranging from less than $2,500 to more than $71,000 – and the likelihood of graduating with debt also varied – running from 10 percent to 100 percent. At nearly one in five (18%) colleges, average debt rose at least 10 percent, while at 7 percent of colleges, average debt decreased by at least 10 percent. In general, colleges with higher costs had higher average debt at graduation, although that wasn’t always the case.
The authors note that the report’s data have significant limitations, primarily because colleges are not required to report debt levels for their graduates. Only 57 percent of public and nonprofit bachelor’s degree-granting colleges provided data, representing 83 percent of graduates in those sectors. And for-profits, as mentioned, were excluded because hardly any chose to disclose their graduates’ debt. Even colleges that do provide data may understate graduates’ debt loads because they do not include transfer students and are often not aware of all private loans.
Thus, the report’s main recommendation is to get better debt data via federal collection of cumulative student debt data for all schools. The report also makes recommendations about reducing students’ need to borrow, helping students make better-informed college decisions, and simplifying income-driven repayment plans.
See the report or TICAS’ interactive map for more information.
 Federal data for 2012 graduates of for-profit. four-year colleges show that the vast majority (88%) took out student loans and that borrowers graduated with an average of $39,950 in debt—43 percent more than bachelor’s recipients in the other sectors. In addition, students at for-profits tend to default on their loans much more frequently than students in other sectors.
On Thursday, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) released its most State Outlook. According to the report, state operating support for public four-year colleges and universities is 3.6 percent higher for FY 2015 than it was for FY 2014. Of the 49 states that have passed a budget thus far, support for higher education increased in 43 states and decreased in only 6 states. Of those 6 states that reduced funding, all were under 3 percent: Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Washington (0.8 percent decrease) and West Virginia.
There was a relatively small amount of variation between states in terms of their year-to-year funding changes. For FY 2015, the spread between the state with the largest gain and that with the largest cut was only a 24 percent—this is compared to 57 percent, 25 percent and 46 percent, respectively, in FYs 2012, 2013 and 2014. The report notes that this decreased volatility likely indicates “a continued post-recession stabilization of states’ budgets.”
Charitable contributions to U.S. colleges and universities increased 9 percent in 2013, to $33.8 billion—the highest recorded in the history of the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey. In addition, college and university endowments grew by an average of 11.7 percent in FY 2013, according to a January 2014 study released by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Commonfund Institute. This represents a significant improvement over the -0.3 percent return in FY 2012.
The report also describes ten highlights/trends from states’ 2014 legislative sessions, those being:
- State initiatives linking student access to economic and workforce development goals.
- Tuition freezes or increase caps in exchange for state reinvestment—this occurred in Washington and another example is discussed in our previous post.
- Performance-based funding systems that attempt to align institutional outcomes with state needs and priorities.
- Governor emphasis on efforts to advance state educational attainment goals.
- Interest in policies related to vocational and technical education, including allowing community colleges to grant certain four-year degrees (as described in our previous post).
- Efforts to develop a common set of expectations for what K-12 students should know in mathematics and language arts.
- STEM-related initiatives, including additional funding for STEM scholarships in Washington.
- Financial support for the renovating and/or constructing of new campus facilities—unfortunately, Washington’s legislature did not pass a capital budget.
- Bills allowing individuals to carry guns on public college and university campuses—as of March 2014, seven states had passed such legislation.
- Legislation that extends in-state tuition or, as occurred in Washington, state financial aid to undocumented students.
Other noteworthy policy topics described in the report include:
- Student financial aid programs—some states broadened their programs while others limited them;
- Online and competency-based education reciprocity agreements;
- “Pay It Forward” Funding Schemes; and
- Consumer protection as it pertains to student recruitment, advertising and financial aid at for-profit colleges.
In an effort to boost international student retention, a new survey by the NAFSA: Association of International Educators seeks to understand why international students drop out or transfer before earning a degree. The survey asked 517 international undergraduate students, of which 110 had either transferred or were planning to transfer, about their college experience and their reasons for changing schools. In a parallel survey, about 500 international education professionals were asked why they thought international students transferred.
The students who participated in the study cited financial factors as the top reasons for their dissatisfaction:
- Limited access to jobs and internships (37 percent)
- Affordability (36 percent)
- Dearth of scholarship opportunities (34 percent)
- Meal plans (26 percent)
- Quality of housing (17 percent)
Interestingly, the factors that educators believe are hurting international student retention are quite different. Although nearly two-thirds of international education professionals named “financial problems” as a primary cause of attrition, the other top reasons they listed focused more on academic preparedness and fit:
- Finding a “better fit” institution (67 percent)
- Financial problems (64 percent)
- Academic difficulties (62 percent)
- Inadequate English language skills (40 percent)
- Dissatisfaction with location (34 percent)
The findings suggest that there is a disconnect between the expectations of international undergraduates and those of college administrators. Inside Higher Ed quotes Rahul Choudaha, the report’s principal investigator, as saying, “Students may be underestimating the academic preparation expected to be on a campus and they are overestimating the availability of jobs, availability of scholarships, availability of financial aid and so on.” College recruiters, thus, should help manage international students’ expectations by recognizing and being upfront about the availability of job and scholarship opportunities on their campus. In addition, as international students may be underestimating the level of academic and language preparedness necessary to succeed at American universities, special tutoring and academic advising services may be required to help them succeed and stay. Together, these approaches could help boost retention and clarify expectations, so both administrators and students have a better experience.
To read the NAFSA findings, click here. Or, check out the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed articles on the issue.
In April 2013, UW President Michael K. Young convened a Task Force to study how the UW could better respond to and prevent sexual assault on campus. The Task Force, which included leaders from the Counseling Center, HR, Athletics, Academic Units, Student Government, Housing and Food Services, UWPD, Harborview, and Bothell and Tacoma campuses, put out a comprehensive report on its findings in October 2013. Given the current national attention focused on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, and the need for a comprehensive response, the UW’s report can be seen as a blueprint for creating a successful sexual assault prevention and response program.
Here are the eight major goals for any sexual assault prevention and response program, as outlined by the report:
- Have a visible, robust, easily-accessible, collaborative network of response and intervention services for students in need
- Educate all students about sexual assault
- Create a community that knows how to respond and provide support
- Provide an investigation and disciplinary process appropriate for sexual assault
- Demonstrate compliance with all applicable federal and state laws, regulations, and guidance
- Generate data, metrics and reporting that allow for sound decision making
- Establish policies and procedures that set direction, clarify intent, and guide coordinated work
- Provide effective oversight and following guiding principles to ensure common direction
The Task Force also included 18 concrete and specific recommendations, including hiring a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner at the UW Medical Center, providing better sexual assault prevention training to students and staff at orientation, and revising UW policies related to sexual assault, to ensure that these goals are met. It also gave a list of funding priorities, such as hiring a consultant to overhaul the Student Conduct Code, funding the UWPD Victim Advocate and a Sexual Assault Investigator, and funding training and materials. The group will convene again in October to give a status update to the President, and will have periodic meeting after that to measure progress and define new goals and recommendations.
To read the Task Force’s full report, please click here.
Accenture recently released the results from their annual college graduate employment survey. The survey polls more than 2,000 students, including recent graduates and prospective graduates. Similar to last year’s findings, the 2014 report claims that on average, prospective college graduates are overly optimistic when it comes to their opportunities for training and prospective level of compensation.
- While 80 percent of recent grads expect to receive formalized training from their employer, just 48 percent of 2012/13 grads received such training.
- 43 percent of 2014 survey respondents expect to earn more than $40,000 at their first job, but only 21 percent of employed 2012/13 grads are actually earning that much.
- 46 percent of 2012/13 grads feel that they are significantly underemployed, compared to 41 percent last year.
Despite their optimism, it seems college students have also become more practical when it comes to choice of major. Seventy-five percent of students graduating in 2014 claim they took job prospects into account when they chose their major, up from 65 percent in 2012. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters are willing to move out-of-state in order to land a job.
Accenture recommends that employers reassess their hiring strategies in light of these results. Instead of searching for the perfect candidate for an entry-level position, the company should invest in training and education programs that will help retain the employee and help them grow. Furthermore, given the willingness of recent grads to relocate, companies should consider advertising for their positions outside of their local area in order to attract the best talent.
To read our post about last year’s report, please click here. Or, check out the full 2014 Accenture report.
The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released its annual survey of international student applications on Thursday, which revealed that the number of international student applications to U.S. graduate schools increased by 7 percent in 2014 and, for the second year in a row, Chinese applications fell slightly, while those from students in India soared.
Chinese graduate applications (and enrollments) had steadily increased for the better part of a decade. But, in 2013, the number of graduate applications from China dropped by 3 percent and, this year, that number fell by another 1 percent. Meanwhile, Indian applications increased by 22 percent in 2013 and by an even more impressive 32 percent in 2014.
“The distribution of applications by country of origin… remains a concern,” the CGS report states, noting that Chinese applications trends have historically been more stable than Indian applications trends. Past fluctuations in Indian applications appear to have primarily resulted from changing economic circumstances and exchange rates; however CGS’s president, Debra W. Stewart, attributed the recent increase to tightening student-visa rules in the U.K.
The number of new Indian students at English universities dropped by half since 2010-11, which observers partially ascribe to the elimination of post-study work opportunities for international students and, as Inside Higher Ed notes, other U.K. immigration policy changes that have made the U.K. appear less welcoming of international students.
According to an article by The Chronicle, “Stewart said she worries that unless American lawmakers reform the visa system to make it easier for international students to stay and work after graduation, the United States could lose whatever edge it may have.”
The Chinese slowdown is likely a more permanent change resulting (at least partially) from China’s push to improve its own research universities. The report’s other noteworthy findings include that Brazilian graduate applications increased by 33 percent—which could be due in part to the Brazilian government’s massive scholarship program—and that graduate applications from Africa, Europe and the Middle East (the three world regions reported on) all showed increases as well.
Figures for 2014 are preliminary and subject to revision in a CGS report planned for August.
TICAS recently published a white paper entitled “Should All Student Loan Payments Be Income-Driven? Trade-Offs and Challenges.” The white paper does a great job of summarizing existing income-driven repayment (IDR) plans that are available to students in the US (see the table below, which was drawn from page 4 of the report). TICAS highlights the complicated nature of many of the IDR options, and questions whether the US should automatically enroll students in IDR, as is the case in the UK and Australia. While automatically enrolling borrowers in IDR may help reduce default rates and lessen the burden of student loans, it may also increase the time horizon for paying off loans, thereby increasing the amount that borrowers ultimately pay over the lifetime of the loan.
Summary of Existing Income-Driven Repayment Plans in the US
Monthly Payment Cap
Income-Based Repayment (Classic IBR)
All borrowers with federal student loans (Direct or FFEL), new or old, with a partial financial hardship (PFH).
15% of discretionary
Borrowers who take out their first loan on or after July 1, 2014, and have a PFH.
10% of discretionary
Pay As You Earn
Since late 2012
Direct Loan borrowers who took out their first loan after Sept. 30, 2007 and at least one after Sept. 30, 2011, and have a PFH.
10% of discretionary
Borrowers with Direct Loans, new or old; no PFH requirement.
The lesser of: 20% of
discretionary income and
12-yr repayment amount x
income percentage factor
For more information on the details of IDR and the benefits and challenges of the system, please check out the TICAS report.
A recent report by New America, titled The Graduate Student Debt Review, reveals that much of the nation’s “$1 trillion in outstanding federal student debt” is the result of expensive graduate and professional degrees, rather than unaffordable undergraduate educations.
The report, which analyses recently publicized data from the Department of Education, shows that around 40 percent of recent federal loan disbursements are for graduate student debt. Moreover, the paper shows that graduate student debt across a variety of fields—not just business school and medical school—comprises some of the largest increases in student borrowing between 2004 and 2012. Thus, the authors recommend that legislators, journalists, and the public at large adjust their understanding of student debt to recognize that it’s not just undergraduate problem.
Most news stories highlight the debt of graduate students—which tend to have much larger loan balances—yet journalists typically don’t differentiate graduate debt from undergraduate debt. EdCentral makes a compelling argument for why this lack of differentiation is a problem and why it deserves legislative attention:
“The failure to distinguish between undergraduate and graduate debt in discussions of college costs is a serious flaw in how we think about student debt. Students, families, and taxpayers invest significant resources in financing “college,” largely because a bachelor’s or associate degree is a must for anyone who wants to secure a middle-class income… But arguments for high levels of subsidy for students who attend graduate and professional school are on shakier ground. While a graduate or professional degree boosts a student’s earnings prospects and the economy at large, it is not the foundation for economic opportunity and middle-class earnings that a two- or four-year degree now provides. Students pursuing graduate degrees should be far more informed consumers. Therefore, they shouldn’t need a lot of public support to finance their next credential, which is why there are no Pell Grants for master’s degrees. That spike in debt for graduate degrees should also focus policymakers’ attention on an impending tidal wave of loan forgiveness for graduate students and the lack of loan limits for students pursuing graduate degrees.”
You can read more about New America’s report at The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed.
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