Education Sector’s Debt to Degree: A New Way of Measuring College Success is commendable for its focus on institutional productivity, writes Robert Kelchen, a UW-Madison educational policy graduate student, guest-blogging on Education Optimists. However, the “borrowing to credential ratio” could reduce low-income students’ access to college, Kelchen fears.
The metric favors selective colleges and universities, which enroll fewer needy students and more well-prepared students likely to earn a degree. Running the IPEDS data, Kelchen “the more Pell recipients an institution enrolls, the worse it performs on this ratio.”
While even though Carey and Dillon focus on comparing similar institutions in their report (for example, Iowa State and Florida State), it is very likely that in real life (e.g. the policy world) the data will be used to compare dissimilar institutions. The expected unintended consequence is “cream skimming,” in which institutions have incentives to enroll either high-income students or low-income students with a very high likelihood of graduation.
The debt-to-degree ratio doesn’t solely measure college performance, Kelchen concludes. In part, it’s the result of student inputs.
In addition, Ed Sector classifies 60 colleges as four-year institutions even though bachelor’s degrees make up less than 10 percent of credentials awarded. That’s misleading, Kelchen writes.