Potential for Better Cost Measures
The US Department of Education could provide better tools for informing families about college costs by addressing the flaws in the net price rankings, by publishing institutional loan repayment rates for all colleges and by publishing data concerning the average cumulative debt at graduation. The final regulations concerning "gainful employment" introduce three new affordable debt measures for colleges: loan repayment rates, debt-service-to-income ratios and debt-service-to-discretionary-income ratios. The US Department of Education could choose to publish these debt measures for all colleges, not just for-profit colleges, to provide families with information about the extent to which each college's graduates are struggling to repay their loans. The loan repayment rates would be particularly helpful for ranking colleges. Even better would be data concerning cumulative debt at graduation. The US Department of Education currently publishes quarterly reports concerning new federal education loan volume, but this data does not provide data on cumulative debt for just the students who are graduating. It also does not provide data concerning private student loans, nor does it distinguish between undergraduate and graduate debt. The Common Data Set does provide information concerning cumulative debt at graduation, but it suffers from other flaws. The Common Data Set is voluntary, with less than two-thirds of colleges submitting data. Even among the colleges that complete the surveys, many colleges do not report debt figures, especially the colleges whose students graduate with the greatest debt burdens. The Common Data Set also does not provide combined student/parent debt figures.