NEW YORK - More than 1 in 5 borrowers of federal student loans who attend for-profit colleges default within three years of beginning repayment, new figures made available today by the US Department of Education show.
Historically, the government has reported such figures in terms of how many students default within two years - a figure that stands at 6.7 percent of student borrowers overall and about 11 percent at for-profit schools.
But the new three-year numbers, though preliminary, give a clearer picture of whether a student at a particular school will default, so the government will soon begin using them to help decide which colleges qualify for taxpayer-supported student aid programs.
Currently, schools with default rates higher than 25 percent for three straight years can be disqualified, but experts argued that schools were gaming the two-year figures. So starting in 2012, colleges will be judged on how many students default within three years of starting repayment, though the new threshold default rate for sanctions will be 30 percent instead of 25 percent.
Nearly 12 percent of borrowers who began repayment in fiscal 2007 defaulted within three years - up from 9.2 percent for 2006. But at for-profit colleges, the rate was 21.2 percent within three years, the Associated Press calculated from the government’s data. That was up from 18.8 percent for fiscal 2006. More recent overall figures aren’t available, though analysts generally presume default rates increased during the recession.
Harris Miller, president and chief executive of the Career College Association, which represents for-profit colleges, said the increase reflects the poor economy. He also said high default rates don’t measure a school’s quality and noted that his group’s members enroll large numbers of low-income students.
In recent years, only a handful of institutions have lost eligibility for federal aid due to high default rates. But the new data show more than 300 colleges, more than 85 percent of them for-profit schools, had three-year default rates higher than 30 percent. Those schools will have to improve when the rules kick in or risk losing federal aid.
Most of those schools are smaller, local institutions, however, and not the giant national chains.