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.
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published a special report on public colleges, detailing how state funding declines and rising tuition have put increasing pressure on largely need blind public colleges and the students they enroll. The first section of the report, “An Era of Neglect,” shows the decline in state funding for higher education through the eyes of six interested parties—a lobbyist, an anti-tax activist, a state Senate member, a Governor, a higher education advocate, and a university president. The second essay, “The Tipping Point,” cautions that state disinvestment in higher education has shifted the cost burden such that students and their families pay for more than half of their education in many states. The third piece, “Equalizers No More,” warns that public higher education no longer serves as a ladder for upward mobility, since college costs are often too much for low-income students to bear and financial aid has not kept up with rising tuition. The fourth and fifth sections, “Explore State Support by College” and “Who Foots the Bill?” contain info-graphics that show the decline in state support for public colleges between 1987 and 2012, as well as detail the cost sharing breakdown between students and the state.
The Office of Planning & Budgeting has done similar analyses in the past few years. The graph below shows the trajectories of state funding and tuition over the period from 1999-2015. Despite the fall in state support, the UW has remained committed to providing generous need-based financial aid. As a result, the net price of attending the UW is $9,395. Check out OPB’s analysis of net price at the UW and our peer institutions here.
To read the full special report, check out the Chronicle’s website.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently surveyed students who had taken at least one of Penn’s twenty-four MOOCs and viewed at least one online video lecture. Findings from the responses of 34,779 students revealed that 80 percent of the MOOC-takers already had a 2- or 4-year degree and that 44 percent already had some graduate education. This research supports the platitude that MOOCs primarily serve the well-educated.
The trend was observed for MOOC students in the U.S., as well as those in developing countries, and even those in countries where MOOCs are popular. Coursera – the MOOC provider for Penn and several other universities – has made “access” central to its mission of bringing world-class education to everyone. However, The Chronicle notes:
“Coursera has taken a hands-off approach to publicity, relying almost entirely on word of mouth (and its university partners) to spread awareness of MOOCs. It stands to reason that much of the hubbub about MOOCs has occurred in well-educated circles. Combine that with spotty Internet availability in underprivileged communities, and it makes sense that only the most privileged populations have had occasion to take a MOOC.”
Coursera says they are working on several projects to help reach underserved students, particularly those without internet access. One of these efforts (we assume) are the global “learning hubs” discussed in a prior post and in this NY Times article.
Although the findings are noteworthy, the authors mention two important caveats:
- Their findings don’t necessarily mean MOOCs will never reach underrepresented populations, just that they haven’t done so yet; and
- The respondents represent only a small percentage of students registered for Penn MOOCs, let alone all MOOCs; thus “the survey may not be generalizable.”
The College Board recently published “Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society,” which provides data on U.S. adults’ level of education and its impact on earnings, employment, health-related behaviors, reliance on public assistance programs, civic participation, and more. The goal of the report, the authors say, is to highlight the ways in which individuals and society benefit from increased levels of education. The authors note, “Financial benefits are easier to document than non-pecuniary benefits, but the latter may be as important to students themselves, as well as to the society in which they participate.”
Many old trends continue to hold true. Having a college education increases one’s chances of: being employed, earning a higher income, receiving health insurance and pension benefits, climbing the socioeconomic ladder, being an engaged citizen, and of leading a healthier lifestyle. These individual benefits translate to larger, societal benefits, including less government spending on public assistance programs, more tax revenue, and greater civic involvement.
A few noteworthy data points about earnings include:
- In 2011 (the most recent year for which income data is available), the median pre-tax earnings of full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree* were $21,100 higher than those of full-time workers with only a high school diploma.
- As workers age, earnings increase more quickly for those with higher levels of education. For instance, at ages 25-29, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree earn 54 percent ($15,000) more than their high school graduate counterparts; but at ages 45-49, they earn 86 percent ($32,000) more.
- During a standard 40-year full-time working career, median earnings are 65 percent higher for those with a bachelor’s degree than for those with only high school diploma.
- “Compared to a high school graduate, the median four-year college graduate who enrolls at age 18 and graduates in four years can expect to earn enough by age 36 to compensate for being out of the labor force for four years and for borrowing the full tuition and fee amount without any grant aid.”
The report also provides some interesting facts about participation and success in higher education, such as:
- Large gaps in enrollment rates and patterns persist, particularly with lower income students. However, gaps between the enrollment rates of black and Hispanic high school graduates and those of white high school graduates narrowed significantly between 2001 and 2011.
- Although educational attainment rates are increasing, attainment rates and patterns vary noticeably by demographic groups. For example, the percentage of black females ages 25 to 29 who have a bachelor’s degree doubled between 1982 and 2012—going from 12 to 24 percent—whereas the percentage of black males increased from 11 to 16 percent.
- In the U.S., public funding makes up a smaller percentage of total funding for higher education than in most other developed countries.
* “Bachelor’s degree” means a bachelor’s degree, but not a more advanced degree.
The College Board released its 2013 edition of “Trends in College Pricing” on Tuesday. The report provides information on what colleges and universities are charging in 2013-14; how prices vary by state, region, and institution type; pricing trends over time; and net tuition and fees—what students and families actually pay after accounting for financial aid.
Here are a few noteworthy points about prices at public four-year institutions:
- The average published tuition and fees for full-time resident undergraduatesat public four-years increased by 2.9 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14, going from $8,646 to $8,893—this is the smallest percentage increase in over 30 years.
- In 2013-14, full-time students at public four-years will receive an estimated average of $5,770 in grant aid and tax benefits.
- Thus, average net tuition and fees for full-time resident undergrads at public four-years will be about $3,120 in 2013‑14—up from a temporary low of $1,940 (inflation-adjusted dollars) in 2009-10.
And a few key points about private nonprofit four-year institutions:
- The average published tuition and fees for full-time students at private nonprofit four-years increased by 3.8 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14, going from $28,989 to $30,094.
- In 2013-14, full-time undergrads at private nonprofit four-years will receive an estimated average of $17,630 in grant aid and tax benefits.
- Thus, average net tuition and fees for full-time undergrads at private nonprofit four-years will be about $12,460 in 2013-14—up from a temporary low of $11,550 (inflation-adjusted dollars) in 2011-12, but down from $13,600 a decade earlier.
Average net prices in all sectors took a noteworthy dip around 2010 due, in part, to significant increases in Pell Grants and veterans benefits that occurred in 2009‑10 as well as the 2009 implementation of the American Opportunity Tax Credit. However, some of those benefits have been scaled back since their initial launch. Moreover, total state appropriations declined by 19 percent between 2007-08 and 2012-13 and FTE enrollment in public institutions increased by 11 percent over that same time. Consequently, net prices have risen in the last few years for all sectors, but most noticeably in the public sector. It is important to remember that there are many variations by institution, region, and state. Even within institutions, different students pay different prices based on their financial circumstances, program of study, year in school, academic qualifications, athletic ability, etc.
See Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle for additional analysis and discussion of the report.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released “Skills Outlook 2013,” a report that studies adults’ skills in literacy, numeracy, and technology across 24 countries. While Japan and Finland ranked first and second respectively in average scores, the United States scored significantly below average in all three fields. Many experts worry that the US will not be able to compete in a global marketplace unless we are able to improve proficiency in these skill areas.
There was not much good news for the United States in the OECD’s report: Americans ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy (comprehending and interpreting words, sentences and complex texts), 21st out of 23 in numeracy (solving problems in a mathematical context), and 14th out of 19 in technology skills (problem-solving using a computer). Furthermore, socioeconomic background was a greater predictor of skill proficiency in the United States than in other countries, indicating large social disparities and a low potential for upward mobility. However, socioeconomic background was less of a predictor for younger US adults, meaning (perhaps) that socioeconomic background is becoming less of a barrier with time. Lastly, not only did the US score below average in all areas, there was hardly any improvement between younger and older generations. For numeracy, older US adults (ages 55-65) performed near the average, but younger US adults (ages 16-24) scored dead last among all participating countries. This last point is particularly concerning as it suggests young people are entering a much more demanding labor market, but are not much better prepared than those who are retiring.
These disappointing results raise an interesting question: if the US has such a dearth of skilled workers, how is it able to remain an innovative and productive economy? Anthony Carnevale, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, believes it is because the US compensates the most talented and skilled workers exceptionally well, which attracts significant foreign talent and creates great innovation and growth from the top down. However, as growth in the future will likely require more skills at every level of the economy, the American advantage could be slipping. The authors suggest that better educational opportunities and better training in the workplace will be necessary to reduce social inequities, improve upward mobility, and thus avoid economic stagnation. While the report finds that more education is correlated with higher skill proficiency, the quality of education in different countries can differ to the extent that a 25-34 year old high school graduate from Japan exhibits better skill proficiency than a college graduate from Spain. This suggests that adults can learn important skills outside of the traditional educational track—through better job training, adult education, and skill certification and recognition.
For more information, check out the full OECD report, or analysis by Inside Higher Ed and the New York Times.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its annual update on federal student loan cohort default rates (CDRs), which measure the frequency with which student borrowers at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) default on their federal loans. Although both national and UW CDRs rose, the UW’s rates remain well below those of the nation.
As ED is in its second year of switching to the more accurate three-year CDR measure, this year’s report includes both the FY 2011 two-year and the FY 2010 three-year CDRs. These rates represent the percentage of student borrowers who failed to make loan payments for 270 days within two or three years, respectively, of leaving school.
The Department provides breakdowns of its data by institution type, state and school. Here are some key findings:
FY 2010 three-year CDR:
- The national three-year CDR increased from 13.4 to 14.7 percent overall—public institutions increased from 11.0 to 13.0 percent, private nonprofits increased from 7.5 to 8.2 percent, but for-profits’ whopping 22.7 percent rate decreased slightly to 21.8 percent.
- The UW’s three-year CDR increased slightly from 3.1 to 3.9 percent, but this is still nearly 11 percentage points below the national average.
FY 2011 two-year CDR:
- The national two-year CDR increased from 9.1 to 10.0 percent overall—public institutions increased from 8.3 to 9.6 percent, for-profits increased from 12.9 to 13.6 percent, but private nonprofits held steady at 5.2 percent.
- The UW’s two-year CDR increased from 2.1 to 3.2 percent, but this is still nearly 7 percentage points below the national average.
While this is good news, many students still struggle to afford ever-increasing tuition fees and/or to repay their student loans. The UW reaches out to our former students at risk of default on their Stafford Loans and helps identify federal repayment options that could benefit them. Former UW students who are in default or experiencing difficulties repaying their loans can contact the Office of Student Financial Aid for assistance (firstname.lastname@example.org, 206-543-6101). Students can also visit studentloans.gov to explore their repayment options.
The results of two new surveys released Tuesday reveal some of America’s views on both the future of higher education as well as its role in producing desirable outcomes, particularly career-ready graduates. Under Northeastern University’s sponsorship, FTI Consulting surveyed 263 hiring managers in July as well as 1,000 adult Americans in August. Here are some of their findings:
- Americans continue to see the value in higher education, but are concerned that the system does not adequately prepare graduates for their careers. Respondents ranked “level of education” as the most important factor in determining a job candidate’s success; yet, 62 percent said colleges currently do only a fair to poor job of preparing graduates for the workforce. That said, 79 percent believe their own college education prepared them well.
- Americans are conflicted about who has the greatest responsibility to train recent graduates for the workplace: employers (36 percent), colleges/universities (29 percent) or the graduates themselves (35 percent). When Americans were asked why U.S. companies are struggling to find good job candidates, the most common response was that companies are not investing enough in training new hires. However, 87 percent of Americans assert that higher education must change in order to maintain an internationally competitive workforce.
- Americans and business leaders value “soft” skills, like problem-solving and communication, over “hard” industry-specific skills. Most Americans (65 percent) and business leaders (73 percent) believe that, for people on the job market, “being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry experience because job-specific skills can be learned at work.”
- Americans and business leaders agree that experiential learning is highly valuable to students’ careers. Nearly all Americans (89 percent) and business leaders (74 percent) believe that students are more successful in their careers if they have work experience from a field-related internship or job. Both groups agree the most important step the U.S. can take to better prepare colleges students is to broaden the professional work programs available to them.
- Although most Americans (67 percent) think colleges should adopt new technologies and interactive teaching methods, they have doubts about MOOCs and online degrees. Less than 30 percent of Americans and business leaders believe MOOCs are of the same quality as in-person courses, and only 37 percent of Americans would consider completing a postsecondary degree solely online. However, about half of all respondents believe MOOCs will transform education in the US and that online degrees will be equally accepted by employers within 5 to 7 years.
My take-away from all this, to summarize, is: Americans and business leaders believe that people on the job market need a college education, some professional work experience, and a well-rounded skill-set and in order to succeed. However, they also believe that colleges, businesses, and the government must play a role in helping students garner those qualifications.
According to an annual survey released on Monday by the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP), the amount of state dollars going toward financial aid remained relatively stable between 2010-11 and 2011-12. In 2011-12, states awarded about $11.1 billion in state-based financial aid, a slight increase (0.7 percent) over the $11.0 billion awarded in 2010-11. That growth has not kept pace with rising enrollments or the overall increase in students’ financial need; however, it’s encouraging to see growth of any size given that general state appropriations for higher education fell by 7 percent during that same time period.
The state-by-state data show that Washington, New Jersey, New York and California gave out the most need-based aid on a per-student basis. Oregon more than doubled the amount it spent on need-based grants, to nearly $44-million, and Washington increased its need-based grants by 26 percent. However, 23 states cut need-based aid from 2010 to 2011 and four states reported no need based aid programs at all.
What’s most intriguing, in my opinion, is that even though states collectively put only slightly more money toward their financial aid programs, they shifted a larger portion of those aid dollars toward need-based aid and grant aid (see the tables below). This finding suggests that states are attempting to maintain access in the face of rising tuition rates and to reduce the amount of debt their students accumulate.
Of the $11.1 billion in total state-awarded student aid:
- $9.4 billion (84%) was grant aid—up 1.7% from 2010-11; and
- $1.7 billion (16%) was non-grant aid (loans, work-study, tuition waivers, etc.)—down 4.2% from the previous year.
Of the $9.4 billion in state-awarded grant aid:
- $7.0 billion (74%) was need-based—up 6.3% from last year; and
- $2.4 billion (26%) was non-need-based—down 9.4%.
Of the $10.1 billion in state-awarded undergraduate aid (both grants and non-grants):
- $4.7 billion (47%) was exclusively need-based—up 6.0%;
- $2.0 billion (20%) was awarded on a mix of need and merit criteria—up 1.6% and surpassing, for the first time ever, aid awarded solely on merit;
- $1.9 billion (19%) was exclusively merit-based—down 1.3%; and
- $1.4 billion (14%) was special purpose awards and uncategorized aid— a 3.0% drop.
|Change in Total State-Awarded Student Aid
|Percent change from 2010-11 to 2011-12
|Type of Student Aid
||Portion of total
|Change in State-Awarded Grant Aid
|Percent change from 2010-11 to 2011-12
|Type of Grant Aid
||Portion of total
|Total grant aid
|Change in State-Awarded Undergraduate Aid
|Percent change from 2010-11 to 2011-12
|Type of Undergrad Aid
||Portion of total
|Mixed need & merit-based
|Uncategorized & other
|Total undergraduate aid
A recent update on our state’s progress toward meeting the Washington Roundtable’s Benchmarks for a Better Washington emphasizes the need for legislative action on education, including protecting funding for our public universities, as well as transportation and business costs. The Roundtable – a nonprofit, public policy organization comprised of major, local business executives – created the Benchmarks in 2011 as a means to measure and track Washington’s economic vitality and quality of life. The organization publishes annual updates that examine state-by-state comparative data (primarily from federal sources like the U.S. Dept. of Education); assess Washington’s position in key categories; and highlight opportunities for improvement.
The May 2013 update showed that:
- Washington trails most states in high school graduation rates (ranking 32nd nationally) and bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (39th nationally).
- Washington’s road condition rankings have dropped from 16th (2012 ranking based on 2008 data) to 29th (2013 ranking based on 2011 data) and our state continues to rank poorly on bridge conditions (41st).
- Washington ranks in the bottom third of states for business tax burden (36th), unemployment insurance tax rates (40th) and workers’ compensation benefits paid (50th).
- However, Washington has held onto its lead in patent generation (5th) and in low commercial and industrial electricity rates (3rd).
The authors argue that Washington must move quickly to improve its education pipeline and align with workforce needs. As 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary training by 2020, they assert, “It is imperative that Washington prioritizes higher education and does a better job of preparing its citizens to succeed.”
In Monday’s edition of CrossCut, Roundtable President, Steve Mullin, urged lawmakers to focus on two key topics during the remaining weeks of session: education and transportation. He specifically called for legislators to ensure our colleges and niversities have the funding they need to develop necessary talent. “Decision time is here,” he wrote, “Education is the driver of prosperity and individual quality of life. Transportation is the backbone of commerce. Both need attention before the 2013 Legislature adjourns.”
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