August 12, 2022
Private nonprofit institutions offer a disproportionately high number of the master’s degree programs whose graduates have high debt and low earnings, according to a recent analysis from the Urban Institute.
Although private nonprofit institutions accounted for 44% of all master’s programs in the data, they made up 75% of programs with high debt and low earnings.
Nearly half of master’s programs with high debt and low earnings are in the fields of social work, clinical counseling and applied psychology, and mental and social health services. Public institutions offer programs in those fields that graduate students with significantly less debt than their private and for-profit counterparts, raising questions about degree pricing, according to Urban Institute researchers.
The growing focus on master’s degrees that lead to high debt and low earnings for graduates could result in accountability measures from policymakers. But unlike previous efforts, which mostly affected for-profit institutions, future attempts might largely affect nonprofit institutions and a few fields of study, said Jason Delisle, senior policy fellow at the Urban Institute and coauthor of the analysis.
The analysis was conducted using College Scorecard data first released by the Department of Education several years ago. Researchers compared median earnings, measured two years after graduation, with average loan disbursement to students who completed degrees. They weighted the programs by enrollment size and analyzed the programs with debt-to-earnings ratios in the top 10%.
That group had an average debt of $77,000 and earned an average of $43,000.
The analysis is limited in part by the federal College Scorecard data, which does not include degree programs with few completers because of privacy concerns.