The Department of Education on Tuesday released a trove of information that shows the average amount of debt incurred by graduates of different academic programs at each college and university in America. This focus on discrete programs, rather than institutions as a whole, is gaining favor among political leaders and could have far-reaching effects.
With anxiety about student debt soaring — the billionaire Robert F. Smith made headlines last weekend with his surprise promise to pay off the debts of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class — the program-level information has the potential to alter how colleges are funded, regulated and understood by consumers in the marketplace.
Everyone knows that different majors have different economic payoffs. Social workers earn less than chemical engineers. But federal laws that regulate college success don’t account for that. Instead, they average results across the university. People don’t have a good way of seeing how big those differences are within a particular university, let alone comparing programs across universities.
The new, more detailed debt information was created in response to an executive order issued in March by President Trump.