Understanding Accumulated Student Debt, Rising Tuition, Public Policy

ASDThe impact of accumulated debt on federal financial aid policy/funding, state financing of higher education, institutional enrollment strategies, and student college going decisions is complex and difficult to unravel. The New York Federal Reserve Bank has released a staff report contributing to the understanding of the complex intertwined dynamics that deserves a thorough read and discussion at the institutional strategy level. I have some issues with causal inference and conclusions but the issue is of paramount importance. There are significant implications and ramifications to their findings. I have selected a couple of resources that help focus the dialog on strategic issues.

Consider the finding “We find that institutions more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65 percent.”

  • What does this actually mean? Does it infer that institutions’ adjusted tuition is based upon aid formulas rather than true labor and compliance costs? How does this play across sectors, types, regions and states? What are the political ramifications of this finding and what will happen in the hands of politicians in a national election cycle?

Consider the data published in the Chronicle of Higher Education that indicates “just 20 universities are responsible for a huge share of graduate-student debt, amounting to more than $6.5 billion in a single year (2013-14).” and goes onto show that Walden University ranked first with $756,336,024 in graduate student debt. (Walden U. Responds to Report on Graduate-Student Debt)

  • Billions spread over 20 institutions gets everyone’s attention. Is this an expose on exploitive strategy or does the data need to be contextualized? Contextualizing the data is something that needs to be done more adroitly by the higher education community. Again what are the implications and political fall out?

Consider the intensifying focus on the earnings to accumulated debt ratios being examined at the programmatic level as examined in the Brookings study included below.

  • The emergence of the relationship between debt, funding and earnings will intensify. The rate of return and schedule of payback, the value to society not just the individual will be asked again and again, and the focus on outcomes will become more intense and more heated.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank in their July 2015 Staff Report examines the

Credit Supply and the Rise in College Tuition: Evidence from the Expansion in Federal Student Aid Programs

 When students fund their education through loans, changes in student borrowing and tuition are interlinked. Higher tuition costs raise loan demand, but loan supply also affects equilibrium tuition costs—for example, by relaxing students’ funding constraints. To resolve this simultaneity problem, we exploit detailed student-level financial data and changes in federal student aid programs to identify the impact of increased student loan funding on tuition. We find that institutions more exposed to changes in the subsidized federal loan program increased their tuition disproportionately around these policy changes, with a sizable pass-through effect on tuition of about 65 percent. We also find that Pell Grant aid and the unsubsidized federal loan program have pass-through effects on tuition, although these are economically and statistically not as strong. The subsidized loan effect on tuition is most pronounced for expensive, private institutions that are somewhat, but not among the most, selective.

Huffington Post published the Average Student Debt Burden In Each State

Published data from the Department of Education, College Board, and The Institute for College Access & Success bringing student debt burden to the state level.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Reported “As Graduate-Student Debt Booms, Just a Few Colleges Are Largely Responsible

Published data focused upon graduate student debt burden as a separate issue. According to their table just 20 universities are responsible for a huge share of graduate-student debt, amounting to more than $6.5 billion in a single year (2013-14). Walden University ranked first with $756,336,024 in graduate student debt.

Brookings Reported in November 2014 an analysis of Graduates’ Earnings Growth and Debt Repayment

Brookings published an analysis of accumulated debt ratios for students enrolled in specific program types. The report also provides an interactive feature, Undergraduate Student Loan Calculator, to calculate the share of earnings necessary to service traditional loan repayment for 80 majors.

In closing

The relationships between accumulated student debt, graduates earning potential,  the earning to payback cycle alignment, and managing tuition price and discounting ratios, form a major issue stream that weighs heavily on the future of higher education. Institutions who understand this will focus on embedding as much value in their curricula as can be achieved. Then they will create a value narrative to guide implementation and align their institutional effectiveness model to close the loop and provide evidence of value. The context involved in achieving a higher value narrative requires we recognize the paradigm shift now underway. To align with the paradigm shift we must examine ways to future proof strategies within the broader context of how higher education is evolving.

Join us at one or more of our Institutes to more deeply explore critical issues facing higher education and strategies to address them.

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