Office of Planning and Budgeting

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.[1] 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.


[1] 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.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently 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 the UW’s CDR rose while the national CDR declined, the UW’s rate still remains well below that of the nation.

ED is in its first year of using only the more accurate three-year CDR measure – as opposed to the two-year CDR. Thus, this year’s report only includes the FY2011 three-year CDR, which represent the percentage of student borrowers who entered into repayment in FY2011, but failed to make loan payments for a 270-day period within three years of leaving school.

The Department provides breakdowns of its data by institution type, state and school. Here are some key findings:

  • The national three-year CDR declined from 14.7 to 13.7 percent overall.
  • The three-year rate decreased over last year’s rates for all sectors:
    • Public institutions decreased very slightly from 13.0 to 12.9 percent,
    • Private nonprofits decreased from 8.2 to 7.2 percent, and
    • For-profits’ whopping 21.8 percent rate decreased to 19.1 percent.
  • The UW’s three-year CDR increased slightly from 3.9 to 4.3 percent, but this is still nearly 10 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 (osfa@uw.edu, 206-543-6101). Students can also visit studentloans.gov to explore their repayment options.

On Monday, Kaplan University launched “Open College” which is intended to help adult students earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Studies by offering credit for a combination of competency-based course assessments, experiential learning, and external exams (AP, IB, CLEP, DSSTs, etc.). Open College will include free online courses and mentoring to help prospective students identify and organize prior experience that could qualify for college credit. Once students enroll and have their prior skills assessed for credit, they will pay a subscription fee of $195 per month, an assessment fee of $100 per each of the remaining 35 “course equivalents” needed to earn a degree, and a $371-per-credit fee for a final six-credit capstone course.

According to The Chronicle:

“A student entering with no credits who pursued the program for 48 straight months could earn a bachelor’s degree for about $15,000. Students who earned credits based on their prior experience would end up paying less than that. Officials expect that such students would typically enroll with about 60 credits, take 24 to 30 months to complete a degree, and pay about $9,500.”

Kaplan’s administration sees Open College as the newest candidate in the hunt to create a $10,000 bachelor’s degree and as a new, flexible way for adults to advance their career.  While Open College’s structure and pricing may work well for some students, a few things should be considered before rushing to enroll in Open College.

First, students at Open College will receive little, if any, financial aid.  Open College’s website says it will not participate in federal student aid programs; it also gives no indication that students will be eligible for state financial aid or that it will offer any form of institutional aid. Therefore, although comparisons are difficult and potentially problematic, it’s worth noting that in 2013-14, resident students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $3,120 in annual net tuition and fees (published tuition and fees less grant and aid scholarship from federal, state or institutional sources).[1] If we assume, as Kaplan did, that a student entering with no credits would take 48 months to earn a degree and that tuition and fees would not increase during those four years, then a resident student who enters a public four-year with no previous credits would pay roughly $12,480 in tuition and fees to earn a four-year degree, compared to a similar student at Open College who would pay $15,000. Of course, this total does not consider the cost of rent or room and board, which can be very expensive; but neither does Open College’s estimate, even though a student earning a degree through their program would presumably still be spending money to eat and live while earning a degree.

Second, employer doubts about the quality of an online degree may impact graduates’ employability. According to the results of two surveys released last fall, only 41 percent of hiring managers believe that online programs are of the same quality as traditional, in-person programs.

On Thursday, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) released a policy brief examining the potential consequences of Pay It Forward (PIF) (please see our previous blogs for background information).  The AASCU brief summarizes other, similar approaches to paying for college and analyses PIF as a potential state approach to financing public higher education.  

The report describes the following “13 Realities of PIF College Financing Proposals”:

  1. Most students could pay more, not less, for college.
  2. Considerable uncertainty would be introduced into campus budgeting and planning efforts.
  3. The majority of college costs are not covered.
  4. Students from sectors with the heaviest student debt burdens would be ineligible to participate.
  5. The class divides in public higher education, and more broadly, in American society, could intensify.
  6. Costs borne by students pursuing privately financed degrees and higher-paying careers would increase dramatically.
  7. PIF is duplicative—there are existing public and private programs that calibrate student debt to earnings.
  8. PIF’s start-up costs would be enormous.
  9. Payment collection would be costly and challenging.
  10. Campus and state leaders would have strong incentives to promote programs leading to high-paying occupations, to the possible detriment of the liberal and applied arts, humanities, and public service careers.
  11. Underlying college cost drivers would not be addressed.
  12. Support for state and institutional student financial aid could dissipate.
  13. Support for maintaining existing state investment in public higher education would erode, creating a pathway to privatization.

In addition, the authors discuss “The Unknowns of ‘Pay It Forward’”:

  1. How will institutional financing gaps be addressed?
  2. How would payments be collected?
  3. Who would control PIF funds?
  4. How would PIF’s structure and revenue generation differ from campus to campus?
  5. How would PIF complement or conflict with federal higher education programs?
  6. How would transfer students be integrated into PIF?
  7. What would be the consequences for noncompleters?
  8. How would college savings change under PIF?
  9. How would PIF affect campus philanthropic campaigns?

The report’s conclusion reads, “Creating a lifelong tax and privatizing public higher education through pay it forward is not the solution to addressing college affordability.”  

I recommend that readers review AASCU’s full report.

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:

  1. State initiatives linking student access to economic and workforce development goals.
  2. Tuition freezes or increase caps in exchange for state reinvestment—this occurred in Washington and another example is discussed in our previous post.
  3. Performance-based funding systems that attempt to align institutional outcomes with state needs and priorities.
  4. Governor emphasis on efforts to advance state educational attainment goals.
  5. 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).
  6. Efforts to develop a common set of expectations for what K-12 students should know in mathematics and language arts.
  7. STEM-related initiatives, including additional funding for STEM scholarships in Washington.
  8. Financial support for the renovating and/or constructing of new campus facilities—unfortunately, Washington’s legislature did not pass a capital budget.
  9. Bills allowing individuals to carry guns on public college and university campuses—as of March 2014, seven states had passed such legislation.
  10. 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.

Posted by Corrin Sullivan, Intern at the Office of Planning & Budget and Educational Policy student through the month of July 2014. My focus is on higher education access and policy. I look forward to sharing newsworthy events in the higher ed world with you.

Let’s start with a quick summary of two articles from this past week in higher ed news.

Selected California Community Colleges May Soon Offer a Baccalaureate Degree

The California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education approved Senate Bill 850 (SB850) this past week, which launches a pilot program offering fifteen community colleges the opportunity to offer a four-year degree program as soon as January 1, 2015. The Community College Board of Governors and chancellor, in consultation with the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) systems, will consider a variety of colleges and select fifteen districts based on four-year degree proposals that meet a variety of criteria; most notably, degrees not available at any of California’s four-year schools and that address the state’s unmet workforce needs. Although the UC system has yet to comment on SB850, California’s Community College Chancellor, Brice Harris, commends the Assembly Committee’s approval of legislation stating that it has the potential to broaden higher educational access and offer more job training opportunities for Californians.

North Dakota Board of Higher Education Unanimously Approves Budget Requesting System-Wide Tuition Freeze

The North Dakota Board of Higher Education recently approved its biennium budget request, which asks for an approximate 14 percent increase in funding in exchange for freezing tuition rates among its eleven colleges and universities for the coming biennium (2015-17). Based on a new funding formula instituted in the 2013 legislative session that relies largely on credit-hour completion, the budget’s $774 base request reflects a $94 million dollar increase from the previous year’s request. The $94 million dollar increase includes a $49 million dollar request to cover operating costs associated with additional credits taken at the state’s colleges and universities. In addition to the $94 million base increase, the board has also requested $9.5 million dollars to cover sums “students would have to cover without a freeze,” compounded with several smaller requests to meet institutional equipment and staffing needs. The Board states that they will freeze tuition rates at all colleges and universities from 2015 through 2017 if and only if, the legislature agrees to fully fund the base budget and increase employee salaries and benefits. Noting affordability as an issue in declining student enrollment numbers, the freeze aims to decrease tuition so that rates are competitive with the state’s regional counterparts.

While the Board has frozen tuition rates at the state’s two-year schools for four of the past six years, this request to freeze tuition for all North Dakota higher education institutions is unprecedented. The budget is before Governor Jack Dalrymple, pending recommendations, prior to advancing to the state’s legislature.

As the UW’s Office of Federal Relations reported on their blog, yesterday Senate Democrats released plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Their proposal focuses on four main goals:

  • Increasing affordability and reducing college costs for students,
  • Tackling the student loan crisis by helping borrowers better manage debt,
  • Holding schools accountable to students and taxpayers, and
  • Helping students and families make informed choices.

In addition, today the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced reauthorization-related bills of their own, including:

For more information, check out the Federal Relations blog and a recent article by EdCentral.  We’ll post more information on OPBlog over the coming weeks.

Temple University recently created a new partnership between students and the university to help students graduate on time and limit the amount of debt they accrue. Under the program, called “Fly in 4,” if an undergraduate student fulfills a set of requirements aimed at promoting on-time completion, but is still unable to graduate within four years, the university will pay for any remaining coursework (tuition and fees).  Additionally, in each incoming class, 500 students with financial need will receive “Fly in 4 grants” of $4,000 per year to help reduce the hours they must put toward employment and increase those they can devote to studying. [1]

“What we’ve found is that students from low- and middle-income backgrounds tend to take longer to complete their degrees, in part because they spend a lot of time working,” Temple President Neil D. Theobald is quoted as saying.

Starting in Fall 2014, all incoming freshmen and all incoming transfer students who enter on track to graduate on time are eligible for the program; however, only those with demonstrated financial need are eligible for the $4,000 grants. To remain eligible for the grants and/or for Temple to pay for any remaining coursework, students must:

  • Meet with an academic advisor each semester;
  • Register for classes during priority registration;
  • Advance annually in class standing; and
  • Complete a graduation review at or prior to completing 90 credits.[2]

President Theobald made six commitments to the Temple community in his October inaugural address, the first of which was to reduce student expenses. Fly in 4 is a part of that commitment.

“For nearly 50 years, researchers have shown that college students employed more than 15 hours per week during the school year earn much lower grades than do those working fewer hours for pay,” Theobald said. “In addition, time-to-graduation has become the primary determinant of student debt.”

To help fulfill its commitment and ensure students graduate on time, Temple has also invested heavily in advising (hiring 60 new full-time advisors since 2006, including 10 this year), created four-year graduation maps for every major, and trained faculty members to assist students with academic and career planning.



[1] For context, Temple’s 2013-14 undergraduate tuition rates were approximately $14,100 for residents and $23,400 for non-residents (depending on program and year of study).

[2] Contrary to a number of media reports, it does not appear that students are required to commit to working 10 hours per week or less in order to be eligible for the Fly in 4 grants. Temple University’s website makes no such statement.

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.

Yesterday, March 4th, President Obama submitted his fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress. The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) has published their analysis of the budget as has the Education Policy Program at New America.

TICAS states that the President’s proposal “takes important steps towards making college affordable for Americans by reducing the need to borrow and making federal student loan payments more manageable.” Specifically, his budget:

  • Invests in Pell Grants and prevents them from being taxed.  The budget provides funds to cover the scheduled $100 increase in the maximum Pell award, raising it from $5,730 in 2014-15 to $5,830 in 2015-16. TICAS notes that although this increase will help nearly 9 million students, “the maximum Pell Grant is expected to cover the smallest share of the cost of attending a four-year public college since the program started in the 1970s.”
  • Makes the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) permanent.  TICAS supports making the AOTC permanent as they note research suggests the AOTC is the most likely of the current tax benefits to increase college access and success.  New America, however, recommends the administration convert the tax credit to a grant program as they state researchers have found grants to be a more effective way to deliver aid to low-income families.
  • Improves and streamlines income-based repayment (IBR) programs. Under the President’s budget, more borrowers would be eligible to cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and have their remaining debt forgiven without taxation after 20 years. The budget also adjusts the IBR programs to prevent debts forgiveness for high-income borrowers who can afford to pay their loans.
  • Requests funding for the College Opportunity and Graduation Bonuses.  The budget proposes establishing College Opportunity and Graduation Bonuses, which would reward schools that enroll and graduate low-income students on time. Both TICAS and New America note that, unless this proposal is thoughtfully designed, it could incentivize schools to lower their academic standards in order to make it easier for Pell students to graduate. Further, as this proposal is one of several different efforts to reward colleges that provide affordable, quality educations, it is unclear how its goals and formulas would interact with those of initiatives like the Postsecondary Education Ratings System.

The UW’s Federal Relations blog notes that the budget also proposes $56 billion for an “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” which “aims to effectively replace the remaining FY2015 sequestration cuts for nondefense discretionary programs – the programs we care about the most.” Please stay tuned to their blog for more information and updates.

Next Page →