President's Blog

A good measure of Mason’s ROI

With Kirk Heffelmire

One of the statistics that best measures the value of a college or university is its student loan default rate. A low default rate likely indicates that you are reasonably priced, deliver healthy on-time graduation rates, and put graduates in a position to land good jobs that enable them to pay back their loans.

By that measure, Mason is an off-the-charts value. The national student loan default rate is a little under 12 percent. At Mason, it’s 2 percent.

In newly released data from the Department of Education, the national and Virginia student loan default rates both increased, while Mason’s rate decreased slightly for students leaving in 2014. As described previously here, Mason is an exception compared to our peers. The chart below makes that clear.

As you can see, if you compare Mason default rates to averages nationally, in-state, among doctoral universities, or among our peers in the highest research activity universities, we fare better.

These outcomes are all the more impressive if you consider the type of student we serve. Default rates correlate very highly with student financial need. The needier the students served by a university, the less likely it is that its graduates will have the earnings to be able to pay back their loans.

As the chart below shows, about 90 percent of the differences in default rates among Virginia universities is explained by student socioeconomic status alone (as measured by the proportion receiving Pell Grants averaged over the preceding four years). Given Mason’s relatively high proportion of Pell students, you would expect a default rate of 5% or higher. Instead, Mason remains an outlier, with a default rate of 2%, in line with universities serving wealthier students.

In other words, Mason is providing valuable degrees while remaining broadly accessible. We’re delivering the goods for our students and their families. Congratulations to all faculty and staff on these remarkable outcomes!