Department of Education Releases 20 Years of College Earnings Data

While there is variation in the amount of debt and fraction of students borrowing by sector, on average, students at private for-profit two-year and four-year institutions have high rates of borrowing and their graduates often have large amounts of debt. While debt per se may not be problematic where students are able to repay their loans, it should be paired with other data, such as completion rates and post-school earnings, to provide a more comprehensive picture of student outcomes.

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Loan repayment rates offer a new way to consider borrower behavior, and may convey more information about student debt management than cohort default rates (CDR). The overall three-year repayment rate for all undergraduate institutions, weighted by the number of students borrowing at each school, was 63 percent in the combined 2010 and 2011 repayment cohorts. 37 percent of students were thus not meeting the repayment metric—either they were in default or were making monthly payments that were not reducing their loan balance. As a point of comparison, the three-year CDR was 13 percent for all students in the 2011 repayment cohort.

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There is a great deal of earnings variation within a college, so that students with good outcomes at low-earning schools often perform better than students with poor outcomes at high-earning schools. Earnings variation can be explained at least in part by the program in which students choose to study; program-level earnings data will be available moving forward, beginning with the 2012 cohort.

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The data in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) on enrollment intensity and transfer status are both of poor quality for Pell-only students prior to 2012. Because of this, the data do not support reporting completion rates disaggregated by full-time and part-time status, or first-time and not-first-time status. Moreover, since transfers can only be identified if the student receives Title IV aid at the transfer-in institution, NSLDS cannot reliably identify all transfer students.

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To help complement federal data and address the limitations of the federal graduation rate measure collected through IPEDS, several external organizations have launched efforts to measure accurate completion rates and other data sources. One effort, the Student Achievement Measure, provides data on progress and completion of transfer, part-time, and full-time students. The Voluntary Framework of Accountability explores remedial education, academic measures, and workforce outcomes. Additionally, IPEDS will begin collecting and publishing more comprehensive graduation rates next year.

Learn more in the Technical Paper


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