Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quick Observations on CAP and Graduate Student Loans

First, please take a look at Scott Weingart's piece on journalism, charts/visualizations, data, and viral texts.

Several articles (eg Washington Post: "These 20 schools are responsible for a fifth of all graduate school debt" July 9; Yahoo: "20 schools account for $6.6 billion of U.S. government grad student loans", July 10) were in circulation this week, apparently re-written from Elizabeth Baylor's piece for the Center for American Progress in the Chronical of Higher Education (paywalled, "As Graduate-Student Debt Booms, Just a Few Colleges Are Largely Responsible", July 8). The source data is available online: It's from the Title IV Program Volume Reports, Loan Volume -> Direct Loan Program -> AY 2013-2014 Q4 (second sheet is award year summary, look at columns T and AD).

These data don't break the awards down by program; in this context, the downstream claims from WaPo:
What’s striking about the Center’s findings is that a majority of the debt taken to attend the 20 schools on its list is not for law or medical degrees that promise hefty paydays. Most graduate students at those schools are seeking master’s degrees in journalism, fine arts or government, according to CAP.
... look a little fishy. The CAP claim is more nuanced (emphases mine):
But it appears that a majority of debt taken on to attend those institutions is not for costly law or medical degrees, but for nonterminal degrees. Among the 20 institutions responsible for the most graduate debt, 81 percent of graduate degrees conferred in the most recent year were master’s degrees. ... As at other universities on the list, most graduate students at those institutions earn master’s degrees, in disciplines like journalism, fine arts, government, and the sciences.
This makes no claim about the relationship of Master's degrees overall to that student debt (though it implies something), nor about proportion of Master's programs to debt. It is worth noting, in these STEM reform times, that WaPo drops "the sciences" from its enumeration of implicitly-blamed programs.

The question raised for me, considering how suspicious the implications about degree programs and debt are, is what percentage of the debt carried by graduate students (especially at the private non-profits) is actually in the more expensive professional schools and "executive" Master's programs.

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