We’re in the haze of the morning after The Big Dance. No more interoffice banter, no more friendly competition, no more basketball on the big screen. Now that March Madness is over, the only thing left is the bragging rights of the office pool’s victor.
While we didn’t hold our breath for a final matchup between Brigham Young University and Harvard, as we earlier predicted in our debt-to-credential bracket, we are happy to see Kentucky take the title over Kansas. While both universities have debt-to-credential ratios more than three times the amount of BYU’s (our champ), Kentucky has the lower ratio ($16,404 versus Kansas’ $20,368). That means Kentucky does a better job of graduating its students—and with less debt. But before Kentucky celebrates what is seemingly a double victory, we’d like to point out that it still has a ratio higher than the average for a public four-year university ($16,247). While a difference of $157 may not seem like that much on its face, every dollar a student has to pay back matters.
And the student debt problem is escalating. The most recent data we used to calculate the debt-to-credential ratio was from 2008-2009. With the continued disinvestment of higher education from state legislatures, we can only assume that these ratios have continued to climb. Students are feeling the pinch in ways we’ve never seen before—student loan debt now has exceeded $1 trillion. At a time when students can’t afford not to go to college, we need innovative solutions to stop funding our system of higher education increasingly on the backs of students.
So while Kentuckians may be celebrating a basketball win, in Frankfort, the legislature continues to slash the higher education budget to the tune of almost 6 percent just last year alone. Creating a basketball bracket based on debt-to-credential ratios has been a lot of policy-wonk fun for us, but when you consider what the numbers really mean for students, it certainly paints a bleak picture of higher education. Only time will tell who will be the winners and losers next year—and we hope it doesn’t continue to be the students.
Written by Education Sector Policy Analyst Rachel Fishman and Writer Mandy Zatynski.