Saturday, December 7, 2013

mean or median?

Perhaps we need a law that regulates journalists to the point where they are obliged to use either mean or median, instead of the ambiguous "average" when reporting on student-debt statistics. Although "average" most commonly refers to the mean, it can also be used as a substitute for median (middle number) or even mode (greatest number).

Anyway, this article, from the paper of supreme truth that we as good Americans ought to genuflect afore regularly, is interesting and certainly shows how including the for-profits greatly increases the debt load as well as the percentage of students with loans.

The student-debt average, which I'm presuming is a mean, appears to be in the 26 to 30K range, and I'm also presuming that outliers on the high end could mean that the median is a bit lower than that.

Excluding for-profit schools, the institute reported that 68 percent of graduates had student debt, averaging $27,850; a recent report by the College Board, using different methodology, put those figures at 60 percent and $26,500.

But for all of us fighting for greater and more equitable access to higher education, as any reasonable educator in a democracy would be, we should also consider that many of the students bringing that number down (taking less money in loans) are concurrently working more hours than they should be so as to avoid leaving college with outlandish debts.

The most troubling aspect of the article is that when including the for-profits, in the past four years, the average debt has grown by almost $6,000:

The Institute for College Access and Success estimated that of the students who earned bachelor’s degrees in the United States in 2011-12, 71 percent had student loans, and the average borrower had $29,400 in debt, compared with 68 percent and $23,450 four years earlier.

With such great increases, making debt-to-income repayment the default option for all borrowers seems to be one  way we can help college serve as a genuine "opportunity" for the greatest number of students.

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