Diane Auer Jones charges me with “name calling.” I think she is confused about what this term means. “Name calling” refers to derogatory names. The only names I called her in my post were “Ms. Jones” and “lobbyist.” Does she think that “lobbyist” is a derogatory name? If so, why does she write “Yes, I am a lobbyist”? If that’s what she is, why is it wrong for me to say so?
Ms. Jones admits that her assertion that we inappropriately used federal GRS data was false. (Strangely, in the space of a single paragraph, she refers to the GRS as both the Graduation Rate Survey and the Graduate Research Suvey. It is the former–there’s no such thing as “Graduate Research Survey data in IPEDS.”) But she then proceeds to complain that “Perhaps some more precise writing on your part would have prevented the error on mine.” Here is what we wrote in the Appendix of the report, where, as is customary, we described our sources and methods:
“The borrowing to credential ratio is the product of two datasets. The credential part of the ratio comes from the annual completion survey submitted by institutions in the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS. This information tracks the number of certificates and degrees awarded at or below the bachelor’s degree level for thousands of colleges across the country.”
I don’t know how we could have been more precise than this.
Ms. Jones goes on to insist that, despite the fact that her methodological critique was based on an error, it is still correct:
I still believe that your methodology biases the denominator against non-selective institutions because institutions that serve a large number of low-income, non-traditional students do not have graduation rates that mimic those of elite, selective institutions. In other words, I still believe that your denominator is artificially deflated relative to your numerator since non-selective institutions have many more students who borrow than graduate. You made the point in your paper that excluding non-graduates from earlier studies misrepresented the truth about actual debt per credential, but I would argue that your methodology similarly misrepresents the truth for an individual student who might want to know how much he or she might need to borrow to complete a degree.
I’m not defending the lower graduation rates of non-selective institutions, but instead pointing out that for better or worse, the graduation rate among their students is lower, so dividing debt accumulated by all borrowers by the number of graduates artificially inflates the total for debt to degrees at non-selective institutions.
Our method is not “biased” against institutions that have low graduation rates. The whole point of our method is to identify variance in borrowing to credential ratios, a significant cause of which is low graduation rates. We do not “misrepresent the truth for an individual student who might want to know how much he or she might need to borrow to complete a degree” because we don’t purport to calculate that amount. As the report notes, average borrowing levels per graduate by institution are already publicly available. The problem with those numbers is that they (A) don’t account for debt among non-graduates, and (B) don’t speak to the percentage of students who borrow. Our ratio accounts for these factors.
Ms. Jones then pleads that low graduation rates are, in the aggregate, an unsolvable problem:
All of us—for-profit institutions, community colleges, minority-serving institutions, public institutions, and even elite private institutions—wish we could find the answer for the tragedy of current college drop-out rates among low-income students, but those of us who believe that everyone has the right to earn an education aren’t willing to resort to the only proven solution to that problem, which is selective admissions.
I’m not going to take the time to summarize the extensive literature on college completion and dropout prevention or the weight of evidence proving that there are a host of strategies that can be used to improve college completion other than selective admissions. I had assumed that a former assistant secretary of post-secondary education (I hope describing you as such does not qualify as name-calling) would have been deeply familiar with this research. I’m sorry, but no longer surprised, to learn otherwise.