Scroll through any education outlet’s news feed and you’ll likely read about a survey asking students about enrolling in college or paying for college or staying in college or even dropping out of college.

I’d also be willing to bet the survey results it describes — tucked into a longform piece about higher education’s future — suggest the entire industry is teetering on the brink of catastrophe.

As someone trained in research methods, I can tell you that a disproportionate share of these more hastily put together surveys are not well designed. …

President Biden is on the verge of deciding to forgive anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 for millions of borrowers holding federal student loan debt. Whether it can actually happen will hinge on a U.S. Education Department memo expected to hit the president’s desk any day now, but that feels irrelevant. Public perception is that mass forgiveness in some form is coming, and the only details are by how much and for whom.

Widespread relief for millions of struggling borrowers may make for a great political rallying cry, but it has also been around since at least 2007. According to federally-collected


Note: this piece was co-authored with Amy Glynn.

In February of this year, the US education system hit an unflattering milestone when Credential Engine announced that the United States had nearly approached one million different types of education credentials.

Of course, not all credentials are created equal. Most everyone’s familiar with the well-known associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in traditional academic fields. We are also routinely made aware of some of the more esoteric degree programs out there like bagpiping (Carnegie Mellon), citrus (Florida Southern College), and puppet arts (University of Connecticut). …

Ask any economist and they’ll tell you a college education is one of the best investments someone can make. Indeed, most have heard the stat that over an entire working career, a bachelor’s degree holder will earn roughly $1 million more than a high school graduate.

That statistic, of course, hinges on whether that person actually graduates college.

If you look at the data, a surprising percentage of bachelor’s-seeking students have no degree and are not enrolled six years after they first begin their higher ed journey.

On its own, that’s bad: But the problem is compounded by the fact…

Too many students drop out of college every year. Disturbingly, many do so after assuming the burden of student loan debt. In fact, nearly 40 percent of student loan borrowers have debt but no degree, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education.

There is no metric or standard for what constitutes an acceptable number of people who have debt without a degree, yet two out of every five borrowers certainly feels like it’s on the high side.

And here’s why it matters: With no degree to boost earnings, the time it would take to pay off tens of…

The unprecedented political push to potentially forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in federal student loans is inching towards reality, and probably the only thing keeping it at bay right now is the economic pushback that so much taxpayer money wouldn’t be coming back, even though many of those borrowers would still be able to successfully make their payments without it.

The unspoken assumption behind forgiveness is that it will happen in a single, lump-sum transaction, which raises questions in its own right. Will the one-time tax consequences for struggling families be large enough to require a loan in itself…

One of the more popular ideas in education policy in recent years has been a gentle nudge, rather than a direct push, for behavioral changes that promote better outcomes. In the case of college, efforts have focused largely on testing whether something as simple as small financial aid nudges can improve an array of education outcomes.

As ideas go, nudging ranks high in theory but (like many great ideas) low on demonstrated success. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, another large-scale study — some 800,000 students — found that nudging people with text messages to complete the government’s Free Application…

American higher education is ramping up again for another semester though you’d hardly know it. For the overwhelming majority of students, “going back to school” has been no more exhausting than moving a laptop from the living room to the dining room.

One might think students and their families would welcome the room and board financial relief. Tuition and fees aren’t cheap, but living costs — everything from meal plans to residence halls or off-campus apartments — are the real budget busters. …

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has many American families struggling financially right now, from making mortgage or rent payments to covering car payments and credit cards. But this time we can’t blame student loans; in March, Congress moved quickly to freeze payments.

Most agree it was the right move at the right time. But it can’t last forever; there’s a $1.3-trillion portfolio that must be repaid. …

Part three in a 3-part series originally presented as a report written for the Manhattan Institute

This is the third and final part in a series of ideas proposed in a report that I wrote for the Manhattan Institute last year around how small shifts in the way cost and pricing data gets conveyed to students and families can produce better enrollment and completion outcomes. (You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here)

In this piece, I propose that we can help students and families make better decisions around college affordability by taking current data around debt and earnings and just repackage it in ways that are more understandable given how they think about paying…

Carlo Salerno

PhD. Education economist. VP of Research @CampusLogic. Title is theirs, opinions are mine.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store