Looking at OPM Student Debt With Updated College Scorecard Data

Are there new insights into MSW program debt and earnings?

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The College Scorecard recently released new data, and I was keen to see if the new data provided additional insights into whether Online Program Management (OPM) supported programs led to higher student debt. As in my two previous posts, I explore this question using data from Masters in Social Work (MSW) programs, as the MSW example is the poster child of OPM affordability debates. As before, I find some hints that OPM-supported programs have higher student debt but no strong patterns. The new data raise some questions the about costs of online programs but also highlight the limitations of College Scorecard data.

Release of new data

On April 25th the Department of Education released a new College Scorecard dataset, a fact that was greeted with much rejoicing in educational geek land.

I was excited as well to explore the updated data. Some of the new data included in the latest College Scorecard are:

  • Median earnings of graduates four years after completion of their field of study;

  • Data on the percentage of students who stayed in state after college;

  • New demographic data for example about student-faculty ratios;

  • Earnings broken down by whether or not students were Pell recipients and also by gender.; and

  • An indication on whether all or part of programs can be completed via distance education.

It turns out that while quite a few data elements have been added, they are mostly useful at the undergraduate level. But there are still some new data that offer some new insights. I was particularly excited about two elements.

  1. Data on earnings 4 years after graduation - In the case of MSW students this is especially helpful as students sometimes have up to two years of in-place training post-graduation. This training can often be un- or underpaid, meaning that the 4th year of data gives a more accurate sense of earnings than other measures. A cautionary note: As the Scorecard points out, the 4th year of data is from 2020 i.e right in the middle of the pandemic.

  2. Distinction between modalities - The scorecard categorizes programs into 3 options - in-person, mixed, and distance education (DE) options. Important note: This is program-level data that often is not separated. Some institutions will show MSW programs that have DE options as well as in-person (mixed), but other institutions will separate into in-person programs and DE programs.

Unfortunately, just under 20% of all entries in the Scorecard lack any information about modality and many are missing information (or are “privacy suppressed”) on debt and earnings. But with these caveats in mind, what did I discover?

Debt and earnings 4 years after graduation and the role of OPMs

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