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Data Tool Degrees of Value
How Policymakers Can Design a High-Quality College Accountability System
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Most college degrees open doors to new opportunities, but not all college programs work well for every student. Despite some limits on how high student loan default rates can go, no effective system of institutional accountability prevents students from attending underperforming institutions.

By using additional metrics that more holistically capture the return on students’ investment in higher education, policymakers can develop a reliable high-quality accountability system. This tool incorporates multiple metrics that can account for differences across types of programs and institutions. In addition to default rates, we explore data on how many students complete their degrees and certificates, how much students earn after leaving school, and how much students still owe five years into loan repayment. Different programs and schools will fail to meet different metrics, but our research illustrates that a high-quality accountability system should offer flexibility while holding institutions accountable for a range of student outcomes.

Use the sliders below to set thresholds for each of our metrics, and see how many colleges pass each individual threshold, all thresholds, only some, or none.


About the Data

For this tool, we use data from the College Scorecard and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. College Scorecard data on default rates and completion rates are from the 2019–20 academic year, data on loan repayment are from 2018–19, and data on postcollege earnings are from 2014–15.

Because of how these metrics are reported, some institutions are grouped together with a parent institution, resulting in an aggregate measure across multiple colleges. We set our initial metric settings equal to the level at which 5 percent of students attend institutions that fall short of the threshold (e.g., about 5 percent of students attend institutions where more than 8 percent of students default on their loans). For our initial earnings level, we used students attending four-year institutions instead of all institutions (i.e., about 5 percent of four-year college students attend institutions where more than 25 percent of students earn less than $16,700 10 years after enrolling). See our full report to learn more about our methodology. Download the data used in the visualization here.


This feature was supported by Arnold Ventures. We are grateful to them and to all our funders, who make it possible for Urban to advance its mission. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Funders do not determine research findings or the insights and recommendations of our experts.

RESEARCH Sandy Baum, Erica Blom, Jason Cohn, Jason Delisle

DESIGN Christina Baird

DEVELOPMENT Fernando Becerra (

EDITING David Hinson

WRITING Wesley Jenkins

Research Areas Education
Tags Community colleges Higher education Postsecondary education and training
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy