Race Matters

The Department of Education has acknowledged using flawed data in a study on the impact of race on student loan repayment rates, having omitted black students from its calculation. The analysis was conducted during the debate over gainful employment regulations, in response to complaints that the rules would hurt colleges that enroll relatively high percentages of minority students.

Department officials disclosed the error in a December court filing, which is part of the ongoing legal challenge to gainful employment by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the primary for-profit trade group. That lawsuit appears to have led to the mistake’s discovery.

The Obama administration designed the federal rules in an attempt to ensure that most programs at for-profit colleges and certificate and vocational programs at nonprofit institutions prepare students for "gainful employment." For programs to be eligible for federal financial aid, they must adhere to benchmarks related to student loan repayment and debt-to-income ratios.

The original analysis was included in the introduction section of the final rules, which were issued last June. It asserted that the “percentage of the students that are members of a minority group explains 1 percent of the total variance in repayment rates” at for-profit institutions. The low figure, the department concluded at the time, meant the racial composition of students was not a statistically significant contributor to how an institution stacks up on loan repayments. The percentage of lower-income students an institution enrolled was a better measure.

But by failing to count black students, the study understated the impact of race: the actual variance at for-profits is 20 percent over all, and 31 percent for four-year institutions, the department said in the December filing.

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INSIDE HIGHER ED

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