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  • Jun 25 / 2012
  • 3
Education, Jobs, Personal Finance

Constrained after college: Student loans and early-career occupational choices

As of 2011, the average loan debt among all U.S. college graduates was $23,300; the median was $12,800.  The overall student loan burden stood at $870 billion, exceeding Americans’ aggregate credit card balance ($693 billion) and total outstanding auto loans ($730 billion). Do financial obligations significantly limit a student’s life choices or, as other research suggests, are these educational expenses trivial when measured against enhanced professional earnings over time?

A 2011 study from the University of California-Berkeley and Princeton University, “Constrained After College: Student Loans and Early-Career Occupational Choices,” estimates the effect of student debt on early career choices made by recent graduates attending a highly-selective university that eliminated student loans entirely in favor of grants in the early 2000s. Published in the Journal of Public Economics, the study compared the professional choices of three groups of students: students who received both loans and grants; student who received only grants; and students who received no financial aid.

Key study findings include:

  • “Debt leads graduates to choose higher-salary jobs. Much or all of this effect is across occupations, as debt appears to reduce the probability that students choose low-paid ‘public interest’ jobs. Debt effects are most notable on the propensity to work in the education industry.”
  • Students who received financial aid packages free of loan obligations shifted their focus from industries with higher salaries to those that offered lower salaries. (Over the study period, “there was little change in the industry composition of jobs taken by students not on aid.”)
  • Graduates with higher debt burdens chose jobs with higher salaries; for every additional $10,000 in loan obligations, a student’s post-graduation salary rose by $2,000 annually and “reduced the likelihood that an individual will take a job in nonprofits, government or education by about 5 or 6 percentage points.”
  • Debt had almost no effect on a student’s academic performance or his or her ability to secure a job after graduation.

The authors note that the premise that educational debt should have at most a small effect on career choices is not borne out by their data. It is also not clear from this study if financial aid candidates might benefit more over time from attending a less elite — and more affordable — school.

A related study in Education Economics, while based on older data, also concludes that loan burdens influence subsequent life and career choices.

Tags: youth, employment, student loans, higher education

    • May 01 / 2012
    • 1
    Education costs (iStock)
    Education, Personal Finance

    Student loans: Do college students borrow too much — or not enough?

    As the United States struggles to recover from the Great Recession of 2007-09, many would-be students remain optimistic about their professional futures. Some question the wisdom of assuming substantial debt to earn a college degree, however, especially when jobs for young people remain relatively scarce. As of 2012, the average debt load was $25,000 for a graduating senior, with a median figure of about $13,000. But high school graduates earn about $20,000 less than college graduates in terms of median annual income, according to Census figures.

    A 2012 study from Harvard University and the University of Virginia published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “Student Loans: Do College Students Borrow Too Much — or Not Enough?” examined data on student loans in the United States, including broad trends in borrowing over time and optimal loan amounts based on course of study and institution.

    Key study findings include:

    • On average, college education increases total life earnings: In 2012 figures, “the college graduate would have compiled a total of approximately $1.2 million in earnings net of tuition at age 64 as opposed to approximately $780,000 in total earnings for the high school graduate.” This gap was approximately $200,000 from 1965-85 but steadily increased by 1985 to the current gap of more than $400,000.
    • For the average student, a standard ratio of 8-10% loan burden to average post-graduation income has remained relatively stable: “To put this in perspective, an individual with $20,000 in student loans could expect a monthly payment of about $212, assuming a ten-year repayment period. In order for this payment to accrue to 10 percent of income, the student would need an annual income of about $25,456, which is certainly within the range of expected early-career wages for college graduates.”
    • “Students who have chosen a technical field — in the broad categories of computer science, engineering, and math — tend to earn more than the average and more than those with education or humanities undergraduate concentrations.” A 2008 graduate with a concentration in computer science or engineering can expect total earnings of more than $1,800,000; his or her classmate who majored in education can expect to earn or 61% less, or approximately $1,100,000.
    • As of November 2011, the “unemployment rate for college graduates (including those with advanced degrees) was 4.4%, while high school graduates faced an unemployment rate of 8.5% and those with collegiate attainment less than a B.A. faced an unemployment rate of 7.6%.”
    • The percentage of undergraduates taking out any type of debt for school has grown in the last 20 years, from 19% in 1989-90 to 35% in 2007-08. Over the period 1960-80, the U.S. government distributed more grant monies than loans; after 1980, loans steadily increased while grants stagnated until a recent — and significant — increase in 2009.
    • Private-sector borrowing to finance higher education has increased significantly in recent years: “Private sector loans were about $1.5 billion (constant 2009 dollars) in 1995-96 [and] grew to $21.8 billion by 2007-08, representing about 20% of all loan funds.”

    The researchers note that while most students will see a high return on their investment in college, incurring debt “is also a lottery with significant probabilities of both larger positive, and smaller or even negative, returns.” They advise students to carefully consider borrowing limits by evaluating how previous students on a similar path have fared economically and professionally.

    In related research, a 2012 Federal Reserve Bank of New York study notes that “about one-quarter of borrowers owe more than $28,000; about 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000. The proportion of borrowers who owe more than $100,000 is 3.1 percent, and 0.45 percent of borrowers, or 167,000 people, owe more than $200,000.”

    Tags: higher education, campaign issue, metastudy, student loans

      • Jan 27 / 2012
      • 0
      Education, Government, Personal Finance

      Federal student loans: patterns in tuition, enrollment and federal Stafford loan borrowing up to the 2007-08 loan limit increase

      College tuition costs, which have been steadily rising over the past few decades, may put higher education out of reach for many aspiring students. To provide more financial resources for these students, Congress has raised the ceiling on the amount qualified undergraduates could borrow from the federal Stafford Loan program.

      A 2011 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Federal Student Loans: Patterns in Tuition, Enrollment and Federal Stafford Loan Borrowing Up to the 2007-08 Loan Limit Increase,” investigated how changes to the federal Stafford Loan program affected college enrollment. Researchers used U.S. Department of Education data, augmented by interviews with administrators from seven representative schools, to track variables relating to college enrollment and financing from academic year (AY) 1999-2000 to AY 2009-2010.

      Key study findings include:

      • “After the change to the Stafford loan limits beginning in AY 2007-08, the price and the numbers of undergraduate students enrolling in the nation’s institutions of higher education increased at a rate generally consistent with prior years. This pattern was consistent across most institutional sectors.”
      • The Stafford Loan program disbursed approximately $24 billion in AY 1999-2000, $31 billion in AY 2003-2004, $36 billion in AY 2007-2008 and $56 billion in AY 2009-2010. Researchers suggested that these recent increases were driven by more student demand and less state support, private loan and grant opportunities.
      • The number of students borrowing the maximum Stafford loan amount they qualified for declined between AY 2003-2004 and AY 2007-2008. “Borrowing by second-year students declined … sharply, ranging from a 12-point percentage drop for unsubsidized loans to a 21-point percentage drop for subsidized loans. In contrast, the proportions of third, fourth, and fifth-year borrowers who took out the maximum amounts generally showed little or no change.”
      • First- and second-year students comprise about 60% of all Stafford Loan borrowers. The typical maximum borrower in AY 2007-2008 was white, attended a public four-year school full-time and still dependent financially on his parents or guardians.
      • As of AY 2009-2010, 40% attended public two-year institutions at an average annual cost of $2,762, 36% attended public four-year institutions ($6,459/year), 15% attended non-profit four-year institutions ($24,746/year) and 9% attended for-profit two- and four-year institutions ($14,130/year).
      • Total college enrollment has increased approximately 30% since AY 1999-2000, from 12.5 million students to 17.5 million students. “In the 3 academic years after the increase to the loan limit that took effect beginning in AY 2007-08, enrollment rose by about 2 million students (a 12 percent increase).”
      • The report also contains data on private loans taken by students. The total amount borrowed from private financial institutions rose from roughly $3 billion in 1999-2000 to $18 billion in 2007-2000, according to College Board data cited. However, because of the subsequent Great Recession, the tightening of credit, and more stringent lending practices, these sources became more difficult to access. “As these private loans declined, there was a significant increase in the total dollar amount of unsubsidized loans issued to students between AY 2007-08 and AY 2009-10.”

      Tags: higher education, student loans

        • Aug 13 / 2015
        • 0
        Education, Municipal, Public Health, Race

        Back-to-school story ideas, new angles and useful research: From teacher quality issues to student locker rooms

        Summer is quickly coming to an end and that means journalists nationwide will be scrambling to find new angles for their annual “back to school” coverage. We at Journalist’s Resource are trying to make their jobs easier. So we’ve come up with a bunch of story ideas that center around five attention-getting topics. We have even included links to compelling research — to give reporters a jump start and round out their work. It is a reminder, in any case, that there is deeper research that can inform almost any education story.


        1. Teacher qualities

        As school principals start releasing class schedules and holding meet-the-teacher events, some families inevitably will worry about how their children will be affected by their teacher’s experience level, age and background. Academic research has begun establishing more precisely just how long-lasting teachers’ impacts can be. Some parents will wonder whether children will benefit or be shortchanged when assigned to a teacher who’s straight out of college. Some will worry that the most veteran educators will lag behind when it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom. Some moms and dads will want to know whether students are best served by teachers who match their racial or ethnic backgrounds or by those who have achieved National Board certification.

        Journalists have lots of options when approaching the topic of teacher qualities. They can focus on one area of parental concern — or explore them all in a single article. Another angle to look at: Given your school district’s size and demographics, are local administrators working to hire more of a particular type of teacher and why or why not?


        Some research to consider:

        Returns to Teacher Experience: Student Achievement and Motivation in Middle School
        Ladd, Helen F.; Sorensen, Lucy C. Working paper for the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, March 2014.

        Summary: This working paper, which focuses on teachers and students in North Carolina, indicates that greater teacher experience is correlated with higher test scores as well as improvements in student behavior and absenteeism.


        “Early Retirement Incentives and Student Achievement”
        Fitzpatrick, Maria; Lovenheim, Michael. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 2014, Vol. 6. doi: 10.3386/w19281.

        Summary: This working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research looks at the effects of large-scale teacher retirements on student achievement. The study concluded that replacing more experienced teachers with less experienced teachers did not reduce test scores in Illinois in the mid-1990s. The authors found that an Early Retirement Incentives program had positive effects on test scores, particularly for schools serving large numbers of poor students.


        “Teacher Perceptions of Using Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Age Matters!”
        O’Bannon, Blanche W.; Thomas, Kevin. Computers & Education, May 2014, Vol. 74. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2014.01.006.

        Summary: This study, which involved 1,095 teachers from two states in the Southeast, found that teachers who were aged 50 and older were “significantly less supportive” than younger teachers in allowing the use of mobile phones in the classroom.  The teachers aged 50 and older also perceived the barriers to using mobile phones in class — for example, access to inappropriate material — to be more problematic than the younger groups did.


        “Representation in the Classroom: The Effect of Own-race Teachers on Student Achievement”
        Egalite, Anna J.; Kisida, Brian; Winters, Marcus A. Economics of Education Review, April 2015, Vol. 45. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2015.01.007.

        Summary: For this study, researchers estimated changes in achievement levels as students in Florida public schools were assigned to teachers of different races and ethnic backgrounds from 2001–2002 through 2008–2009. They found “small but significant positive effects” when black and white students had teachers of the same race or ethnic background for reading class and for black, white and Asian/Pacific Island students in math. The study found that lower-performing black and white students seemed to particularly benefit when assigned to race-congruent teachers.


        “Connectedness and Expectations: How Minority Teachers Can Improve Educational Outcomes for Minority Students”
        Atkins, Danielle N.; Fertig, Angela R.; Wilkins, Vicky M. Public Management Review, May 2014, Vol. 16. doi: 10.1080/14719037.2013.841981.

        Summary: This study explores whether the presence of minority teachers affects minority students’ educational aspirations and how “connected” they feel to their school. The authors found that having more black and Hispanic teachers raised educational expectations for black students while having more Hispanic teachers increased Hispanic students’ educational expectations and their sense of connectedness.


        “It’s Easier to Pick a Good Teacher than to Train One: Familiar and New Results on the Correlates of Teacher Effectiveness”
        Chingos, Matthew M.; Peterson, Paul E. Economics of Education Review, June 2011, Vol. 30. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2010.12.010.

        Summary: This study indicates that teachers with certifications from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards are more effective at least in some areas. The authors conclude that National Board certification is correlated with student achievement in math and reading at the elementary and middle school levels.


        2. Animals on campus

        College officials are getting requests from students who want to bring animals to campus to help them fight anxiety, depression and other mental-health disorders. In some cases, students want to keep their “emotional support animals” — dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and the like — in dorms and university apartments that have no-pet policies. Administrators are wrestling with how to handle the disruptions that can be caused by support animals, which often are not trained but are prescribed by a doctor, while also following the law as it relates to both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

        Anti-discrimination laws require airlines, restaurants and other businesses to permit emotional support animals even though some people complain. Journalists wanting to explore this topic from a higher-education perspective should ask local colleges and universities how they are handling such requests — and whether they are getting more of them. It’s critical to talk to students and school employees to get a sense of whether — and how — the trend is impacting campus life. Representatives from programs such as International Assistance Dog Week can weigh in on problems of people trying to pass off their pets as emotional support animals or service animals.


        Some research to consider:

        “Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals, and Pets on Campus”
        Von Bergen, C.W. Administrative Issues Journal: Connecting Education, Practice, and Research, Spring 2015, Vol. 5. doi: 10.5929/2015.5.1.3.

        Summary: This report, from an industrial psychologist and professor of management, looks at the issue of domesticated animals being allowed on college campuses from a historical and legal perspective.


        “The Americans with Disabilities Act and Higher Education 25 Years Later: An Update on the History and Current Disability Discrimination Issues for Higher Education”
        Rothstein, Laura. Journal of College and University Law, July 2015, Vol. 41.

        Summary: In this article, a law professor at the University of Louisville highlights important issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and higher education. Emotional support animals are among the topics to which this article suggests college officials should give their attention.


        “Effectiveness of Animal-assisted Therapy: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials”
        Kamioka, H.; et al. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, April 2014, Vol. 22. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.016.

        Summary: These researchers suggest that animal-assisted therapy, under certain conditions, may be an effective treatment for disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and alcohol and drug addiction. They indicate that the randomized controlled trials that had been conducted up to the time of this review were “of relatively low quality.”


        “Construct Validity of Animal-Assisted Therapy and Activities: How Important Is the Animal in AAT?”
        Marino, Lori. Anthrozoos, 2012, Vol. 25. 10.2752/175303712X13353430377219.

        Summary:  The author of this study concludes that the effects of animal-assisted activities and animal-assisted therapy “are likely to be moderate and broad at best and that, although improving, the literature has not yet reached an experimentally rigorous enough level to provide a definitive robust conclusion about the effectiveness of these approaches, particularly with regard to the question of whether a live animal is necessary for a therapeutic effect.”


        3. Showering after gym class

        How often do students shower after physical education? For many students entering middle school, the coming school year will mark the first time they have ever changed clothes or bathed among strangers. Exploring the reasons that many students don’t use the locker room showers can make for a strong piece of journalism that will get people talking. Some reporters, however, might want to delve into the issue further by looking at the consequences of the trend. Sitting behind a smelly adolescent may make it difficult for anyone to concentrate in class. 0There also are health concerns — medical experts say that showering immediately after exercise helps prevent Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections. Reporters also can use this issue as a springboard for a serious, meaningful conversation about bullying in locker rooms or how the lack of privacy in shower facilities might discourage some students from participating fully in physical education.


        Some research to consider:

        “Sixth-Grade Physical Education: An Acculturation of Bullying and Fear”
        O’Connor, Jamie A.; Graber, Kim C. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 2015, Volume 85. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2014.930403.

        Summary: This study looks at how the environment and culture of physical education can foster bullying. The researchers suggest that adults  — parents and gym teachers — promote a culture of peer harassment through action and inaction. The researchers point out that locker rooms are “vulnerable spaces” because students must undress in front of their peers, sometimes without full supervision by an adult.


        “Swimming Upstream: Faculty and Staff Members From Urban Middle Schools in Low-Income Communities Describe Their Experience Implementing Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiatives”
        Bauer, K.W.; Patel, A.; Prokop, L.A.; Austin, S.B. Preventing Chronic Disease, April 2006, Vol. 3.

        Summary:  This report covers a range of topics, including how the lack of privacy in locker rooms and shower facilities may discourage some middle school students from fully participating in physical education.


        “Associations Between Showering Behaviours Following Physical Education, Physical Activity and Fitness in English Schoolchildren”
        Sandercock, Gavin R.H.; Ogunleye, Ayodele; Voss, Christine. European Journal of Sport Science, 2014. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2014.987321.

        Summary: This study of English high school students found that 53% of boys and 68% of girls reported never showering after physical education. The researchers also found that students who did not shower were less active and engaged in fewer team sports.


        4. Dual enrollment

        Students who want to earn college credit while they complete their high school diplomas often have the option of dual enrolling — an option that can save a lot of time and money. Typically, students who meet certain age and grade point-average requirements can enroll at their high school and a local community college or public university. While the program is generally a popular one, there is sometimes disagreement among government agencies about who should shoulder the cost of the program — the school district, the college, the state or the students themselves. Questions frequently arise about the quality of dual-enrollment courses, especially as they compare to courses that can be taken for college credit through the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

        The start of a new school year is a good time to write about dual enrollment because local programs frequently change as budgets are cut or high schools and colleges run short on classroom space. Journalists who want to explore this issue should find out how the dual-enrollment program works in their communities and how it has changed over time, particularly in recent years. It is important to note whether most dual-enrollment courses are taught by high school teachers at a high school or if students travel to the college campus to learn from college faculty. Journalists should pay attention to who uses the program — for example, are most of the students white or is the group racially diverse? — and whether students are completing the courses and continuing to work toward a college degree after high school.


        Some research to consider:

        “Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment and Data Driven Policy Implementation”
        Lichtenberger, Eric; et al. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 2014, Vol. 38. doi: 10.1080/10668926.2013.790305.

        Summary: This study found that students who participated in dual enrollment were more likely to enroll at both four-year institutions and community colleges after graduating high school.


        “A Comparison of Learning Outcomes for Dual-enrollment Mathematics Students Taught by High School Teachers Versus College Faculty”
        Hebert, Laura. Community College Review, 2001.

        Summary: This researcher tracked students who took dual-enrollment math courses through a large community college over a five-year period. The study indicates that students who had high school teachers for dual-enrollment math courses earned significantly better grades in subsequent classes at public universities compared to students who had taken dual-enrollment classes taught by college faculty.


        “Determinants of Students’ Success: The Role of Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment Programs”
        Speroni, Cecilia. Working paper for the National Center for Postsecondary Research at Columbia University, November 2011.

        Summary: This study, which analyzed data taken from two cohorts of all high school students in Florida, suggests that students who took dual-enrollment courses are more likely than those who took Advanced Placement courses to go to college after high school. Students who took dual-enrollment courses were less likely, though, to enroll at four-year institutions. The researcher noted that the positive trend applies to dual-enrollment students who took their classes at a community college. There was no corresponding positive effect for dual-enrollment students who took courses at a high school.


        5. College student debt

        More than 40 million Americans are repaying $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. College debt is a big worry for students and their families as well as lawmakers who want to improve higher-education access and affordability. Presidential candidates are focusing on debt reduction and tuition-free public colleges as they campaign.

        There are a number of ways journalists can approach the issue of student debt from a local angle. One way is to look at the rising cost of the various things college students need. The rising prices of university housing and campus meal plans — two key expenses — are often overshadowed by the intense and ongoing debate over increasing tuition. Journalists should take advantage of the opportunity to talk with families as students begin moving into dorms and campus apartments in late August and early September.

        Some things to ask about: Are students required to live on campus and purchase a food plan? How much have prices changed in recent years and how do they compare to prices charged by other colleges and universities? Does the local college have housing facilities featuring high-end amenities such as marble counter tops, tanning beds and wave pools? How much do housing prices differ among the various options on campus? The answers to these and other questions should provide plenty of information for a solid back-to-school story.

        Another college cost that does not receive a lot of media attention is student fees, which can vary widely from campus to campus and are subject to frequent increases. Many schools charge multiple fees to help fund such things as student-health services, athletics, transportation and technology. At a time when funding is uncertain and the public is pressuring colleges and universities to hold tuition rates steady, some public colleges and universities are relying more on student fees to generate income. Journalists should investigate the fees charged by local schools, asking how they are used, how much they have changed over the years and how the total amount charged for fees compares to the amount charged for tuition.


        Some research to consider:

        “Student Debt Effects on Financial Well-being: Research and Policy Implications”
        Elliott, W.; Lewis, M. Journal of Economic Surveys, 2015. doi: 10.1111/joes.12124.

        Summary: This study examines students’ dependence on loans to cover college costs and the impact that student-loan debt has on graduates’ lives in areas such as career choice, asset accumulation and retirement savings.


        “The Role of Institutional and State Aid Policies in Average Student Debt”
        Monks, James. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 2014, Vol. 655. doi: 10.1177/0002716214539093.

        Summary: This article looks at the various factors that affect student debt levels. The author stresses that policymakers should not focus solely on tuition but should also consider such things as state aid, graduation rates, admissions procedures and the mix of majors across students to try to understand the reasons why average student debt levels vary among higher education institutions.


        “Higher Education and the Spectre of Variable Fees: Public Policy and Institutional Responses in the United States and the United Kingdom”
        Ward, David; Douglass, John Aubrey.  Higher Education Management and Policy, 2007, Vol. 18. doi: 10.1787/17269822.

        Summary: This study looks at the shift to require students to pay for a large portion of their public-university education through variable fees. The authors discuss emerging fee structures and the policy implications of variable fee structures.


        “Channels for Improved Performance From Living On Campus”
        de Araujo, Pedro; Murray, James. American Journal of Business Education, December 2010, Vol. 3.

        Summary: The authors identify reasons why students who live on campus do better in school while they are living in university housing and also in subsequent semesters, even if they move off campus. The study also suggests that students who have lived on campus in the past consume less alcohol, on average, than other students.

          • Jul 21 / 2014
          • 0
          SAT test (US Navy)

          SAT scores, lower-income students and the benefits of attending higher-quality universities

          Over the past few generations, higher education has been transformed from a luxury only available to a privileged few into an institution that a majority of Americans attend as a basic precondition for economy security. In 1971, 34% of young adults had ever attended college and fewer than one in five had attained a bachelor’s degree. By 2012, 63% had attended college and 33% had earned a four-year degree. In the face of expanding access to higher education, concerns remain over educational quality, student debt and the economic returns that students can expect from their education.

          Americans who do not attend college face increasing economic difficulty. Wages for young adults without four-year degrees have decreased steadily since the 1970s, and the earning gap between high school and college graduates has increased over the same period. Research has consistently found that going to college increases earnings, with those majoring in the sciences out-earning students majoring in humanities. It is difficult to quantify precisely the economic benefits of college attendance, however. One could argue that college graduates — because they may have wealthier upbringings, stronger cognitive skills or more social ties — would have earned more money even if they had never attended college in the first place. Even after a 2014 study took such factors into account, it still found that people with a bachelor’s degree in the humanities had a $700,000 average increase in lifetime earnings, compared to high school graduates; and those with bachelor’s degrees in the sciences gained a $1.5 million increase in lifetime earnings.

          As the total amount of outstanding federal student debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2013 — and rates of default rose — some media commentators and politicians began using the phrase “student debt crisis.” It is clear that many people struggle to pay large debts on inadequate salaries — a problem that disproportionately affects African-American college graduates. Yet research has shown that, on average, growing student debt is offset by the higher wages that result from education. A 2014 report by the Brookings Institution shows that wage increases offset these debts and that a larger number of people attending graduate school account for a considerable portion of the aggregate debt increase.

          Another issue in higher education that has garnered the attention of policymakers and admissions officers is a phenomenon referred to as “undermatching,” whereby high achieving students from low-income or underrepresented minority backgrounds fail to apply to selective colleges. One study found that a majority of high achieving, low-income students do not apply to any colleges that are good academic fits for them. A related issue that has not received as much attention involves how to match students who have lower levels of achievement with the colleges in which these students will find the most success. Will a student who just barely meets the minimum requirements of a selective college do better there or at a less selective institution?

          A 2014 study by Joshua Goodman of the Harvard Kennedy School and Michael Hurwitz and Jonathan Smith of the College Board, “Initial College Choice and Degree Completion: Exploiting Variation in College Access Generated by Admissions Test Score Thresholds,” sought to address this question by looking at college applicants who scored either just below a school’s minimum SAT score threshold, or barely over the threshold. The authors looked at the relationship among SAT scores, college selection and graduation rates for students who either sent their SAT scores to one of seven East Coast public universities or who took the SAT while residing in the state of Georgia. The study used SAT score data from the College Board and enrollment, transfer and degree completion data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The researchers included data on students who graduated high school between 2004 and 2007. While Georgia makes its SAT score cutoffs known to the public, the other seven universities have hidden thresholds that the authors were able to determine through statistical analysis.

          The study’s findings include:

          • Among high school students who sent their SAT scores to a low-SAT threshold university (defined as those requiring a minimum composite SAT score of 754 to 1028), half of those students who scored below the cutoff ended up enrolling in another four-year college or university. Most of the remaining half enrolled in a two-year institution, while a small number did not enroll in any school within a year of high school graduation.
          • Low-income students who just made the SAT score cutoff and were then able to enroll in the university of their choice were much more likely to graduate than those who barely missed the cutoff. Among low-income students who sent their SAT scores to a low-SAT threshold university, enrolling in their target college increased the six-year bachelor’s degree completion rate by 49% points when compared to students who were unable to enroll because they scored just below the threshold. There was no statistically significant change in completion rate for high-income students.
          • For high-threshold universities (defined as a minimum composite score of 1192 to 1216), students who made the cutoff had no advantage in six-year bachelor’s completion rates. Students who missed the threshold and enrolled in other universities were just as likely to complete their degree.
          • For students who took the SAT in Georgia, those who scored just above the state university system’s SAT score cutoff and subsequently enrolled in a Georgia state university were nearly twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree compared to students who scored just below the threshold and had to seek enrollment at other colleges.

          “The marginal students we study are, by definition, among the lowest-skilled at their target colleges and thus not obviously well-matched to those institutions,” the authors state. “Nonetheless, we show that a subset of such students, and particularly low income ones, benefit from attending higher quality colleges even though they may be more poorly matched to those institutions in terms of academic skill.” Further, they write, “students should make test-taking and application choices that prevent test score thresholds, some of which they may not even be aware of, from restricting their available postsecondary options. In settings where such thresholds are publicly known, this implies that students falling below those thresholds might be encouraged to retake the relevant exam, either through information campaigns or reductions in the costs of retaking.”

          Related research: For data relating to the association between racial groups and SAT scores, see the U.S. Department of Education’s historical chart. A 2011 Princeton University study looks at the economic returns of attending a highly selective college.

          Keywords: higher education, youth

            • Apr 11 / 2013
            • 0
            Education, Inequality, Personal Finance

            Federal student loan debt burden of noncompleters: Statistics in brief

            Student loan debt has become an increasing problem in recent years. As the New York Federal Reserve notes in a 2013 report, “Over the last eight years, aggregate educational debt outstanding has almost tripled, rising to nearly $1 trillion and becoming the largest consumer liability after mortgages.”

            No other form of debt — auto loans, home equity, credit cards — has seen this sort of steady rise for Americans. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of borrowers and the average amount borrowed each went up by 70%. Still, the overall debt for individual students varies significantly; most students end up with a burden of less than $25,000, and nearly 40% have less than $10,000, as the New York Fed highlights:

            student soans (Federal Reserve)

            A college degree, particularly one in a science and technology discipline, can lead to increased earnings over the course of a lifetime. While the cost of higher education has soared since 1980, aspiring students of limited means can receive financial aid — typically some combination of federal grants, low-interest loans, and institutional work-study and awards — to pay for their education. For instance, the Stafford Loan program disbursed approximately $24 billion over the 1999-2000 academic year, $31 billion in the 2003-2004 year, $36 billion in 2007-2008 and $56 billion in 2009-2010.

            It is not clear to what degree these loans help students complete their education. A 2013 study from the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center found that only 25% of Pell Grant recipients 25 or younger completed their bachelor’s degrees six years later, and the rate was just 3% for older students. To what extent do finances play a role in college completion rates?

            A 2013 report from MPR Associates for the National Center for Education Statistics, “Federal Student Loan Debt Burden of Noncompleters: Statistics in Brief,” examines federal student debt burden accrued by students who did not complete a postsecondary credential within six years. The researchers analayzed longitudinal National Center for Education Statistics data of postsecondary students who first enrolled in 1995-1996 (and their status as of 2001) or 2003-2004 ( and status as of 2009) to better understand completion rates, borrowing habits and debt burdens. (Note: These figures only reflect federal loans and do not reflect total debt for students, as many loans also come from private sources.)

            Study highlights include:

            • As of 2009, the percentage of noncompleters after six years ranged from 19% of students in private nonprofit four-year institutions to 46% in public two-year colleges or for-profit institutions. An increase in noncompletion between 2001 and 2009 was observed only for students in for-profit institutions (from 35% to 46%).
            • Noncompleters’ use of federal loan programs ranged from 25% of those attending public two-year colleges to 86% for those at for-profit institutions; comparable rates for students in four-year public and private nonprofit institutions were 54% and 66%, respectively.
            • For those who started at for-profit colleges, the average federal loan debt was $7500 in 2009 dollars. That figure was $9300 among students who enrolled at four-year public colleges; and $10,400 for students who began private four-year colleges.
            • The cumulative amount borrowed per academic credit earned was highest for noncompleters at for-profit institutions — $350 per credit, compared with $80-$190 per credit in the other three types of institutions.
            • The median cumulative federal student debt for all noncompleters was the equivalent of 35% of their annual income. The debt burden was highest for students in four-year private nonprofit institutions — 51% of borrowers’ annual income. Debt burden among noncompleters who started in for-profit institutions increased from 20% to 43% of annual income between 2001 and 2009.
            • In 2009, 31% of noncompleters who started at for-profit institutions carried debt of 100% or more of their annual incomes. This far exceeds the rates of those with similar debt burdens who first started at other types of institutions, 7% to 21%.
            • “Noncompleters in 2009 had lower rates of employment when they left post-secondary education than did completers at all four institution sectors analyzed in the study.” The lower rates of employment affect the ability of nocompleters to pay back loans that have grown increasingly burdensome.

            “While student loans improve access to postsecondary education, repaying them has become increasingly difficult for students who are unemployed, underemployed or who earn a limited income,” the researchers write. Unfortunately, “these circumstances are more common among students who do not complete a degree than among those who do.”

            Tags: employment, inequality, student loans, higher education

              • Apr 04 / 2013
              • 0
              Iowa State (Wikimedia)
              Education, Jobs, Race

              College student engagement and early career earnings

              Surveys have reflected increasing levels of public dissatisfaction with the U.S. higher education system and the value of a college degree; rising student loan debt levels and the Great Recession, with all the challenges it has created for young people seeking employment, partly explain these skeptical sentiments. Research still shows the significant benefits of a post-secondary degree, versus just completing high school, in terms of increased labor market earnings. But there remain separate questions about how campus experiences and social/study habits — the real substance of college, not just the piece of paper given at graduation — translate into later rewards.

              A 2013 study published in The Review of Higher Education, “College Student Engagement and Early Career Earnings: Differences by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Academic Preparation,” examines the interplay between academic and social engagements, students’ gender, race/ethnicity and academic preparation, and later earnings. The researchers, from Florida State University and the University of Chicago, analyze a longitudinal study of applicants to the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) program. They utilized the initial survey data collected when the students were freshmen and post-college follow-up survey data; the total sample consisted of 1,278 respondents.

              To help define academic engagement, the surveys asked students whether they: “(a) Work with other students on school work outside of class; (b) Discuss ideas from your readings or classes with students outside of class; (c) Discuss ideas from your readings or classes with faculty outside of class; and (d) Work harder than you thought to meet an instructor’s expectations.” To define social engagement, the surveys asked students whether they: “(a) Participate in events sponsored by a fraternity or sorority; (b) Participate in residence hall activities; (c) Participate in events or activities sponsored by groups reflecting your own cultural heritage; and (d) Participate in community service activities.”

              The study’s findings include:

              • No single pattern characterizes, in general, the relationship between engagement and earnings for all students; there are differences between academic and social engagement, and each of those variables then is influenced by gender, race/ethnicity and academic preparation: “The effects of student engagement on earnings in the early stages of students’ careers depend on the nature or type of engagement in which students participate. In other words, engagement in the form of academic activities influences earnings differently than engagement in social activities.”
              • Male respondents were more academically engaged than female respondents and had higher annual earnings in early years in the labor market ($31,101 vs. $25,822). Females, however, were more socially engaged than their male counterparts.
              • The effects of engagement on earnings are conditional on gender. Men experience greater economic benefit from being academically engaged, while women benefit more from social engagement.
              • Hispanics reported the highest average levels of academic engagement, while African Americans were the most socially engaged. American Indian respondents showed low levels of both academic and social engagement.
              • “Academic engagement has a positive and statistically significant impact on earnings among American Indian and Hispanic students, but no net effect among African Americans or Asian Americans. Social engagement had a positive and significant impact on earnings among African American and Asian American students. Alternatively, all other factors being equal, American Indian students who were more socially engaged during college experienced lower annual earnings once they were in the labor market, such that social engagement had a negative effect on earnings among American Indians.”
              • Social engagement did not have a disproportionate impact for students with differing levels of SAT/ACT performance. Academic engagement, however, had a distinct impact on different scoring groups. It had a negative influence on earnings among the low-SAT/ACT group, a positive influence on earnings among middle-SAT/ACT scorers and an insignificant influence on earnings among students who achieved the highest SAT/ACT scores.

              The researchers conclude: “As researchers put forth more efforts toward understanding the economic implications of student engagement … it is increasingly important to consider the extent to which student engagement is conditional on specific student characteristics as a way to understand how distinct facets of the college experience may serve to compensate for, or possibly reinforce, precollege differences.”

              Tags: higher educatios, Native American

                • Feb 01 / 2013
                • 0
                Ohio State University (Wikimedia)
                Education, Jobs

                Effects of work on leadership development among first-year college students

                Many college students work part-time or full-time while pursuing their education. Students are financing an increasing amount of their post-secondary education using their own savings and income as well as loans, according to a 2012 report by Sallie Mae. With costs rising in higher education, students and their families are increasingly challenged in finding the means to pay for school.

                Researchers have studied the negative relationship between students’ employment and their level of engagement. However, student work may have some under-appreciated positive effects, as well. A 2012 study in the Journal of College Student Development, “The Effects of Work on Leadership Development Among First-Year College Students,” sought to examine less-understood dimensions of the lives of working students. The study, from researchers at Augustana College, the University of Iowa, Northern Kentucky University, and Wabash College, analyzes data from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, focusing on 2,931 first-year students at 19 institutions in 11 states. The researchers’ definition of leadership centers on developing the ability to bring about positive social change by enabling individuals to work together.

                The findings include:

                • Off-campus work in excess of 10 hours a week had a direct positive impact on first-year leadership development. This effect is independent of the influence of a student’s level of community engagement.
                • Working off campus more than 20 hours per week produced the most substantial impact on leadership development. These effects persisted even after accounting for a variety of student experiences, including on-campus leadership training or experience.
                • The relationship between work and college life is complex. Extensive work off campus limited peer interaction and co-curricular involvement, which are activities that also enhance leadership skills.
                • Not all forms of work were found to have an effect on leadership development. On-campus work had almost no impact on leadership development compared to nonworking students. Working fewer than 11 hours each week, whether on or off campus, had no impact on leadership capacities.
                • The “findings underscore the value of off-campus work in developing leadership capacities critical to professional success and participatory citizenship. In light of these findings, post-secondary institutions might re-examine the depth of their commitment to supporting student learning for those who work off campus.”

                The authors conclude that, despite prior research demonstrating the detrimental effects of work on campus involvement, work can be beneficial to other aspects of student development. Thus, rather than limiting on-campus work, the authors instead argue that “institutions can ensure that all working students make the most of their educational experience by ensuring that those who work on campus are benefiting from their work experience just as much as those who work off campus.” They recommend additional research to learn about the attributes of off-campus work that facilitate learning.

                Tags: higher education, youth

                  • Jul 15 / 2015
                  • 0
                  Budget, Education

                  Performance funding for colleges: Research roundup

                  For a variety of reasons, funding for institutions of higher education continues to come under intense scrutiny. Some public leaders have pressed for greater accountability among colleges and universities, especially those that receive state or federal funding. In many states, lawmakers have sought to improve institutional effectiveness by creating policies that reward or penalize public colleges or universities based on whether they reach certain goals — for example, boosting their graduation rates or the average salaries earned by recent graduates. These “performance-based funding” policies have become more popular as President Barack Obama promotes a national goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020.

                  Historically, public colleges and universities have been funded based primarily on enrollment. As of January 2015, 30 states had begun to tie at least some of the money they give colleges and universities to certain educational metrics, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four other states are working out the details of their plans for performance funding, an idea supported by influential organizations such as Complete College America.

                  President Obama also supports performance funding and wants to begin linking federal-aid dollars to performance as part of a new college-ratings system that is being developed by the federal government. Under that plan, students who go to higher rated schools could receive more aid, including larger Pell grants.

                  Key underlying drivers

                  What precisely is motivating the push toward performance funding? The trend may, in some ways, be linked to the decades-old movement to tie funding to performance at the K-12 level. But it is important to acknowledge that, beneath the rhetoric, there are a number of trends at work. Supporters of performance funding are quick to criticize the size of university budgets, spiraling costs of higher education, hefty debt burdens being placed on students, and myriad programs that are not preparing students for the new economy. While there may be truth in some of those criticisms, the empirical reality is nuanced.

                  Tuition increases at America’s colleges and universities continue to exceed inflation, although the rate of increases has begun to slow relative to prior decades. Correspondingly, student debt has increased over the past decade faster than other forms of debt and now tops $1 trillion in total, according to the New York Federal Reserve. However, aggregate debt has grown enormously for two reasons: From 2004 to 2014, there was an 89% increase in the number of borrowers and a 77% increase in the average balance size. At the same time, state funding has diminished, pushing more costs onto students and families. The median debt balance for borrowers in 2014 was $14,400, and most had a current outstanding balance of less than $25,000.

                  Further, even as some graduates struggle to get good jobs, research continues to support the notion that a college degree is an indisputably good investment in terms of increasing potential lifetime earnings. However, only 58 percent of students who began a four-year program in 2004 earned a degree in six years, and evidence suggests that “noncompleters,” in particular, have tremendous challenges in terms of employment and thus loan payback. Student loan defaults also continue to take place disproportionately among those who attend for-profit schools.

                  Finally, there are vital aspects of universities that may not be fully captured by conventional metrics. As the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) has noted, federal funding for university research has been “unstable and, in real terms, declining at a time when other countries have increased funding for research and development.” There has historically been a strong connection among fundamental research in higher education, innovation and economic growth; American prosperity and security hangs in the balance as more funding cuts are contemplated, as the NRC report notes.

                  Available research

                  In any case, educators and researchers continue to analyze the benefits and repercussions of performance-based funding policies. Studies so far offer mixed results, with some scholars questioning whether the approach is a red herring. Despite a long history — performance funding in Tennessee dates back to the 1970s and programs in Missouri, South Carolina and some other states originated in the 1990s — there appears to be limited research on how the trend has specifically affected schools with large minority enrollments, including historically black colleges and universities.

                  Here is a sampling of research that explores performance-based funding for higher education, its evolution in the U.S. and its impacts:


                  “Higher Education Governance and Performance Based Funding as an Ecology of Games”
                  Nisar, Muhammad Azfar. Higher Education, February 2015, Vol. 69, Issue 2. doi: 10.1007/s10734-014-9775-4.

                  Abstract: “To address the problematic situation of higher education affordability, and literacy, President Obama has recently outlined a new strategy to make colleges more affordable for the middle class. While this strategy includes many components, “Paying for Performance” is a core component of this new strategy. In recent years, states have also focused on performance based policies to influence the behaviour of higher education institutions. However, most impact assessment studies have shown that such policies have had a limited effect on the performance of these institutions. Most explanations given for this failure have been on the basis of principal-agent theory, resource dependence theory and neo-institutionalism. All these analyses tend to view universities in isolation of their real world ecology. Drawing from the insights of ecology of games perspective, this paper explains the failure of performance based funding policies in terms of the inherent complexity of the higher education system. Policy design implications like flexibility, symbolic contextualization and decentralized financial governance for higher education governance are also discussed.”


                  “Performance Funding for Higher Education: Forms, Origins, Impacts, and Futures”
                  Dougherty, Kevin J.; et al. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 2014, Vol. 655, No. 1. doi: 10.1177/0002716214541042.

                  Abstract: “Since the 1970s, federal and state policy-makers have become increasingly concerned with improving higher education performance. In this quest, state performance funding for higher education has become widely used. As of June 2014, twenty-six states were operating performance funding programs and four more have programs awaiting implementation. This article reviews the forms, extent, origins, implementation, impacts (intended and unintended), and policy prospects of performance funding. Performance funding has become quite widespread with formidable political support, yet it has also experienced considerable implementation vicissitudes, with many programs being discontinued and even those that have survived encountering substantial obstacles and unintended impacts. Although evidence suggests that performance funding does stimulate colleges and universities to substantially change their policies and practices, it is yet unclear whether performance funding improves student outcomes. The article concludes by advancing policy recommendations for addressing the implementation obstacles and unintended side effects associated with performance funding.”


                  “Unintended Impacts of Performance Funding on Community Colleges and Universities in Three States
                  Lahr, Hana Elizabeth; et al.  Columbia University Community College Research Center working paper, 2014. doi: 10.7916/D8MG7N73.

                  Summary: “This paper identifies and analyzes the types and numbers of unintended impacts—actual or potential—of state performance funding policies on higher education institutions. The authors conducted telephone interviews with senior administrators, mid-level academic and non-academic administrators, and department chairs at nine community colleges and nine universities in three states: Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee. This paper discusses the types of unintended impacts that interviewees reported as resulting from performance funding programs, making a distinction between impacts that the authors judge as actually occurring and ones that were stated as possibilities. The unintended impacts most frequently mentioned were restrictions in admissions to college and a weakening of academic standards. Besides documenting main trends, the authors also analyze how interviewee responses varied by state, by type of institution (community college or university), by institutional capacity to respond to the demands of performance funding, and by position the interviewee held in the institution. The paper closes with policy recommendations to address these unintended impacts.”


                  “Impact of Performance-funding on Retention and Graduation Rates”
                  Sanford, T.; Hunter, J.M. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 2011. doi: 10.14507/epaa.v19n33.2011.

                  Abstract: “As the architect of the oldest and most stable performance funding program, Tennessee provides a unique opportunity to analyze the impact of changes in performance funding policies on changes in institutional retention and six-year graduation rates over time. Utilizing spline linear mixed models, this study examines the impact of changes in Tennessee’s performance funding policies on retention and six-year graduation rates at public four-year institutions from 1995-2009. The results show tying retention and graduation rates to performance funding was unrelated to changes in the performance measures over the fifteen year period examined. Additionally, the doubling of the monetary incentive associated with the retention and six-year graduation rate measures in 2005 was not associated with increases in retention rates. These results suggest that at their current funding levels, states’ adoption of performance funding programs, such as the one in Tennessee, may be insufficient to incentivize changes in institutional behavior as desired by state leaders.”


                  “Impacts of Performance-based Accountability on Institutional Performance in the U.S.”
                  Shin, Jung Cheol. Higher Education, July 2010, Vol. 60, Issue 1. doi: 10.1007/s10734-009-9285-y.

                  Abstract: “In the 1990s, most US states adopted new forms of performance-based accountability, e.g., performance-based budgeting, funding, or reporting. This study analyzed changes in institutional performance following the adoption of these new accountability standards. We measured institutional performance by representative education and research indicators — graduation rates and levels of federal research funding. We collected data from 1997 to 2007 and used a hierarchical linear modeling growth curve analysis. The main finding was that states which adopted performance-based accountability did not see a noticeable increase in institutional performance. In addition, we highlighted a critical policy issue—whether state and institutional factors contribute most to institutional performance in higher education.”


                  “A Historical Mission in the Accountability Era: A Public HBCU and State Performance Funding”
                  Jones, Tiffany. Educational Policy, May 2015. doi: 10.1177/0895904815586852.

                  Abstract: “The case study is an analysis of a state performance funding policy at a public historically Black college and university (HBCU). The policy attaches state funding to HBCU performance on measures like graduation rates and equity measures like the reduction in achievement gaps between Black and non-Black students. Participants liked that the policy helped the institution to become more outcome minded, but were critical of the equity measures and their relationship with the state system of higher education. The article addresses how the HBCU’s mission was addressed in the policy and its plans for responding that includes focusing on Latino students.”


                  “Evaluating the Impacts of ‘New’ Performance Funding in Higher Education”
                  Hillman, Nicholas W.; Tandberg, David A.; Fryar, Alisa H. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, January 2015. doi: 10.3102/0162373714560224.

                  Abstract: “In 2007, Washington adopted the Student Achievement Initiative, a statewide performance accountability system designed to improve retention rates and degree productivity among community colleges. Using difference-in-differences analysis, we found that the policy change has had little immediate effect on retention rates or associate’s degree productivity. However, community colleges produced more short-term certificates after the policy reform. These results are robust across many alternative comparison groups. Considering that certificates yield less value in the labor market than associate’s degrees but are easier for colleges to produce, we discuss the unintended consequences of rewarding colleges based on the number of credentials they produce.”


                  “Keeping up Performances: An International Survey of Performance-based Funding in Higher Education”
                  Jongbloed, Ben; Vossensteyn, Hans. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 2001, Vol. 23, Issue 2. doi: 10.1080/13600800120088625.

                  Abstract: “This paper presents an overview of government policies for funding higher education in 11 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. In particular, it describes the mechanisms for funding the university sector and the extent to which the grants to universities are oriented on performance. Are universities funded on the basis of what they produce in terms of graduates and research outputs? And what is the share of public funding supplied through research councils? Although in recent decades the attention paid to issues of efficiency, effectiveness and quality has increased, there are only a few governments that explicitly link universities’ resources to universities’ results in the areas of teaching and research. This is illustrated by means of a graph. A number of tentative reasons for the popularity of enrollments-based funding approaches are presented in the final section of the paper.”


                  Key words: state funding, student retention, public university, student loans, tuition, research roundup

                    • Dec 01 / 2014
                    • 0
                    Reporting, Research

                    Key data- and research-oriented government agencies that media members should know about

                    Do you know CRS, BJS and GAO? If not, you should. The giant alphabet soup of federal agencies can be confusing, but when you really sift through, there are a select group of institutions that really deliver independent, research-oriented information that is useful for media purposes.

                    For journalists looking to deepen their coverage with facts and figures about the United States, the Census Bureau has long been the traditional go-to source. But the U.S. government has a wide range of nonpartisan agencies that gather data and produce statistics and reports that can shed crucial light on national as well as local public-policy questions. Whatever the subject you’re reporting on — be it health care in your community, rates of incarceration, and more — there’s a government agency that can provide key data and insightful reports.

                    It can seem overwhelming, but there are actually only 13 officially designated “principal statistical agencies,” each covering a specific area such as education, transportation, criminal justice and economics. (Eighty-five other smaller agencies also do statistical work, while Data.gov is attempting to aggregate key datasets across the government.) Taking the time to review the offerings of each principal agency is well worth it. The major agencies collecting and synthesizing data are:

                    Three prominent sources for government reports and data merit being singled out and distinguished up front: The Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Government Accountability Office (GAO). All are part of the legislative branch and conduct research, but have distinct roles within the government. The CRS assists U.S. representatives, senators and congressional committees throughout the legislative process. Much of what it produces isn’t available outside Congress, but many reports surface in the public domain and are available through sites such as Open CRS. The CBO supports the Congressional budgeting process by providing independent analyses of budgetary issues. Finally, the GAO is charged with overseeing federal spending: It audits agencies’ operations and reports on the performance of government programs and policies.

                    In addition to these three, there are dozens of major agencies that conduct research, generate reports and data, and make some or all of their work publicly available. All the agencies listed below are nonpartisan, and strive to produce reliable information without regard for any political point of view or agenda. The staff members working on this research are largely comprised of career professionals, not political appointees. Their work is invaluable to members of the government, and equally useful to the journalists, policymakers, educators and the public at large.


                    Congressional Research Service

                    Part of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service supports the U.S. government’s legislative process. Its staff work at the request of members of Congress, analyzing current laws and assessing the impact of proposed alternatives from a strictly nonpartisan perspective. The CRS assists during the drafting process, testifies before Congress and provides oversight of laws after they’re enacted. Because much of the CRS’s works is conducted during the legislative process, there are rules restricting publicity, and not all reports make their way outside Congress. However, the Open CRS portal, among others, makes reports available as they come into the public domain.

                    For example, in November 2013 the CRS released “Impacts and Costs of the October 2013 Federal Government Shutdown.” The agency found that the shutdown cut fourth-quarter real GDP growth by 0.2-0.6 percentage points — approximately $2 billion to $6 billion in lost output, and that the annualized cost could be as much as $24 billion. Other recent CRS reports have included “Expiration and Extension of the 2008 Farm Bill” and “Proposals to Eliminate Public Financing of Presidential Campaigns.”


                    Congressional Budget Office

                    As its name suggests, the Congressional Budget Office focuses on providing financial-related information to Congress, including analyses of policy options, effects and costs. It also prepares reports on federal programs, the U.S. tax code, and broader budgetary and economic issues. As with the CRS, all work by the CBO is objective and nonpartisan.

                    Other than informal analyses provided to Congress, the majority of CBO’s reports are publicly available. They cover many areas of federal policy, including health care, economic growth, income security, education, taxes, energy, the environment, national security, financial issues and infrastructure.

                    All the latest CBO research is available on their publications page, and you can filter by topics (from “agriculture” to “veterans issues”), type of publication, congressional session and budgetary function (050 is “national defense,” for example). The “Our Products” portal is a good landing page to find reports on major initiatives, including the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the economic stimulus).


                    GAO websiteGovernment Accountability Office

                    The Government Accountability Office is charged with overseeing how the federal budget is spent. Like the CRS and CBO, it is a non-partisan, independent agency that assists Congress by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. The agency produces hundreds of reports a year, on everything from infrastructure protection to Internet pharmacies.

                    The GAO’s Key Issues page provides a top-down view into the work of nearly 50 U.S. government agencies, including the newly established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Forest Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission. You can also search information by 30 topics, be it energy, housing or science and technology, and drill down from there. For example, through the Key Issues page  you can find reports on Native American issues, disaster management and the energy-water nexus.


                    Department of Justice

                    As with many Cabinet-level departments, the Department of Justice is a massive agency with numerous sub-agencies. Data and reports available from the DOJ include crime statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); weapons trace data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); arrests and drug seizures by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and inmate statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is an authoritative research arm that produces highly useful reports — frequently authored by academic statisticians — on topics ranging from hate crimes to homicide.

                    Department of Justice reports and data are available through their Open Government portal and publications page. Searching on publications is currently by keyword only, and reports cannot be filtered by date or type, but if you know what you’re interested in, this is the place to come. The Bureau of Prisons has a research links page that brings together FBI and BOP resources on crime, sentencing and incarceration.


                    Inspectors General

                    Inspectors General — brought together under the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency — operate within U.S. departments, agencies and initiatives to promote efficiency and effectiveness as well as detecting and preventing waste and fraud. There are Inspectors General at the Department of State and Department of Education as well as the Social Security Administration, National Endowment for the Arts and Afghanistan reconstruction, nearly 70 in all.

                    The best process to find reports from the Inspectors General is to go to the directory page and then find the agency or initiative that interests you. While the websites of the individual Inspectors General are unique, there’s generally a “reports” button that will take you to a list the agency’s publications. Recent work from the Inspectors General has included a report on the management challenges facing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and investigation of a hantavirus outbreak traced to visitor cabins in Yosemite Park, and an assessment of the 2013 performance of the Federal Trade Commission.

                    Because part of the mission of the Inspectors General is uncovering waste and fraud, their research can spark significant coverage. For example, a March 2014 report from the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office found that between 2010 and 2012, less than half of the insurance companies administering Medicare’s drug program submitted reports about potential fraud and abuse. Using the report as a key document, Charles Ornstein of ProPublica researched and wrote “Medicare’s Drug Program Needs Stronger Protections Against Fraud, Watchdog Says.”


                    Federal Reserve system

                    As their website says, economists at the Federal Reserve conduct “innovative research on a broad range of topics in economics and finance.” The research spans many social science topics — frequently ranging far beyond just financial markets — and it is presented at academic conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals. The economic research and data landing page presents the organization’s latest research. To cite just three examples, in March 2014 the Fed issued “Using Data on Seller Behavior to Forecast Short-run House Price Changes,” “The Interplay Between Student Loans and Credit Card Debt: Implications for Default in the Great Recession”  and “Finance and Productivity Growth: Firm-level Evidence.”

                    The regional Federal Reserve banks also house their own research arms and scholars, and produce many important papers. Of particular interest to financial journalists is the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s FRED database, which offers vast datasets and even tools to visualize them.


                    Census Bureau websiteCensus Bureau

                    The Census Bureau provides a wealth of past data on the U.S. population and American society as well as future projections. Central to the Census Bureau’s work is the American Community Survey, a yearly survey of U.S. residents. The ACS gathers information on basic demographics as well as health insurance status, disabilities, residents’ cost of living, language, poverty levels and more. Data is available for the past as well as one-, three- and five-year future estimates. The American FactFinder tool provides a top-down view of the Census Bureau’s surveys, including the ACS, American Housing Survey, Economic Survey, and more. It offers both a guided and advanced search, and all data can be downloaded. The Census Bureau offers a range of publications and working papers — for example, the potential effects of the Affordable Care Act on the insurance plans that employers offer.

                    The Current Population Survey — a joint product of the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — is the primary source of U.S. labor force statistics. Data provided include the national employment and unemployment rates, earnings and more. ACS and CPS data can be accessed using the DataFerrett tool.

                    The agency provides some data in graphical form, with more anticipated to come online over time. The data visualization gallery provides a range of images that bring data to life, from the distribution of the U.S. Hispanic population by origin to the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa. You can also get a quick geographic view of some ACS data with the Census Explorer tool, which displays statistics such as education levels, occupations and employee pay on an interactive U.S. map.


                    Bureau of Labor Statistics

                    Part of the Department of Labor, the Bureau of Labor Statistics gathers information on employment, unemployment and productivity, as well as inflation and prices.

                    The BLS Data Finder allows users to drill down into agency data based on topics (area, commerce, demographics and occupation) and measures (employment and unemployment, labor force, and earnings). For information in graphical form, the Editors Desk — referred to on the BLS’s site as TED (not the same as TED Talks) — provides data on subjects such as major U.S. work stoppages over the past 60 years to changes in real average hourly earnings from 2007 to 2013.

                    Agency reports and working papers are available through the Office of Survey Methods Research. Recent publications include “Are Gender Differences Emerging in the Retirement Patterns of the Early Boomers?” (the research suggests that the answer is yes). The search tools are pretty basic, however — keywords are the only choice — and some of the material is not as recent as one would want.


                    Other agencies and sites

                    Part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts a substantial amount of research, and also produces information on health and safety topics.  CDC Wonder is a database of public health data that can be searched or browsed by topic, from mortality statistics to aging, cancer, fatal accidents and more. The Education Department’s ERIC database aggregates much of the leading research on topics in that field.

                    For journalists interested in getting directly into the numbers, more than 1,000 data sets are available through HealthData.gov. The Science.gov website also provides links to authoritative scientific documents, reports and position papers from a variety of federal bodies.

                    Finally, U.S. agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Department of Defense (DOD) produce a wide range of research materials.



                    Related research: “Government-related Research Websites; Transparency, FOIA and Data Projects” provides a list of places to look when conducting research at the national and state level. Some are intrinsically partisan in nature (Whitehouse.gov, for example), but all provide a wealth of information and insight, particularly on issues related to the Freedom of Information Act.


                    Keywords: research