Visualizations of Program-Level College Scorecard Data on Student Debt

The US Department of Education released initial program-level data for student debt as part of the College Scorecard. The goal is to increase transparency around specific program outcomes and not just aggregated by institution. From the press release:

Finally, building on President Trump’s March 2019 Executive Order on Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities, the College Scorecard released new preliminary loan debt data by field of study to the College Scorecard data webpage. For years, the College Scorecard provided undergraduate loan debt information at only the institution-level even though the amount borrowed to attend school can vary substantially depending on which program the borrower is enrolled. Institutions are being asked to update their historical enrollment data from which these loan debt metrics are derived. These adjustments will be reflected in a subsequent release of loan debt data metrics by field of study this fall. For prospective students, families, researchers and others interested in examining loan debt data by field of study, please note that the data released today are considered preliminary and future improved versions will be calculated after institutions have time to adjust their historical enrollment data.

There have been several analysis posts already about this new program-level student debt data, and I started using Tableau to combine the student debt with IPEDS data to get a better sense of what new information we have, and I thought it might be useful to share the data visualizations. Below I block quote findings from two articles and place a data visualization below each section. I have color-coded the type of institution in the following cases – blue for public, green for private, and red for for-profit.

The first analysis was from Robert Kelchen, using combined 2015-16 and 2016-17 dataset (the most recent year available).

Median debt data are only available for 42,430 programs (21.8% of the sample), as small programs do not have data shown due to privacy concerns. But based on IPEDS completions, about 70% of students are enrolled in programs where debt data are available. [snip]

172 programs had over $200,000 in median debt, and it looks like the top 116 programs are all in health sciences. The data are preliminary, but Roseman University of Health Sciences’s dentistry program has the top listed debt burden at a cool $410,213.

Median Debt Rank All Programs

Andrew Kreighbaum writing at Inside Higher Ed focused on the large student debt held by students coming out of master’s programs.

The Scorecard information is preliminary and hasn’t been checked by institutions themselves. But it to a large extent confirms what researchers already knew about student debt. Graduate programs, it shows, have the highest volumes of student loan debt. It also highlights a number of outlier programs with especially high debt numbers.

Median Debt Rank All Programs

The University of Southern California, for example, features the only master’s program in social work where average student borrowing topped $109,000. Social workers tend not to earn high salaries and are therefore likely to spend much more of their income on student loan payments.

Borrowers at more than 200 other programs listed in the Scorecard data borrowed on average less than half that amount. Only three other master’s in social work programs — at DePaul University, Howard University and Capella University — had average student borrowing of more than $90,000, according to the most recent data.

Median Debt Social Work

Among law schools with the highest average student borrowing, one of the top three, Whittier College, closed recently in part because of poor outcomes. The accreditor for the fourth, Florida Coastal School of Law, last year found the for-profit out compliance with its standards. Florida Coastal subsequently posted improved bar-passage rates and is seeking to convert to a nonprofit.

Median Debt Law

I also created a combined map view of MBA and related master’s of business degrees to get a better sense of geographic overlap.

MBA Related Mean Debt Level

This data are not perfect, but it is good to have increased visibility into actual programs of study as well as more focus on student debt levels.

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