New Measures of Postsecondary Education Transfer Performance: Transfer-out rates for community colleges, transfer student graduation rates at four-year colleges, and the institutional dyads contributing to transfer student success

Nathan Sotherland, Kevin Stange, and Jordan Matsudaira

The U.S. postsecondary education system provides students with many flexible pathways to earning a bachelor’s degree. One of the most important of these is the opportunity to start a degree at a community college and transfer to a four-year degree program. Community colleges provide access to postsecondary education in diverse geographies (urban, rural, suburban), are open access and low cost, and offer an array of programs and credentials focused on both immediate employment and subsequent degree attainment through transfer to a four-year institution.1  However, while nearly 80 percent of community college students say they intend to transfer and eventually earn bachelor’s degrees,2 actual transfer and degree completion rates are a challenge: only 16 percent of students who start in community colleges ultimately earn bachelor’s degrees within six years, with lower rates for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.3 Addressing this gap can help save students time and money in getting a degree, and will help diversify baccalaureate pathways because over half of students of color and low-income students start in the two-year sector.4 The latter is especially important in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling severely limiting the use of race in college admissions. The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has developed a resource guide for states and institutions to identify key strategies to improve the transfer system and completion rates.5

In this blog, we use data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) at the U.S. Department of Education to measure the performance of the U.S. postsecondary education system in providing a pathway for students who start at community colleges to eventually graduate with bachelor’s degrees. We constructed a sample of roughly 620,000 students from all 50 states who received Title IV aid and enrolled in a community college as their first postsecondary institution in 2014.6 We followed these students for 8 years across multiple institutions and observed whether they successfully transferred from their initial community college and whether they subsequently obtained degrees from predominantly bachelor’s-granting institutions to measure the performance of both sending and receiving institutions.7 We also examined the role that pairs of community colleges and four-year institutions – or dyads – play in transfer student outcomes. We share these results at the state- and institution-level to inform state transfer policy and local implementation of transfer policies and practices.

State and Institution-Level Findings

Overall, we find that 13 percent of Title IV students that start at community colleges ultimately earn bachelor’s degrees within eight years, but with considerable variation across states.8 Figure 1 shows this variability, with some states (New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia) having much higher community college BA attainment than average. Though not shown here, state rankings are very similar for Pell students specifically.

Figure 1. State-level Community College Cohort BA Completion Rate (8-year) for Title IV Students
(download data as a spreadsheet)

Figure 1: Bar chart with state names along the horizontal axis and state-level community college cohorts’ eight-year completion rate for title four students along the vertical axis. States’ completion rates vary from New Jersey on the top end with a 17.9% completion rate to South Dakota at the bottom with a 3.8% completion rate.

Both two- and four-year institutions play a key role in determining this overall state transfer performance. While community colleges provide the onramp to the pathway, public- and private- four-year institutions provide the destination and support for students to complete their bachelor’s degrees. A state’s performance depends on both its two-year and four-year sectors’ performance, meaning a state can only perform well overall if both its community colleges are adept at preparing and sending transfer students and its four-year institutions are successful in enrolling and graduating them.

We measured the performance of the two- and four-year sector in each state with two metrics. For each state, we calculated the rate at which students who start at a public, certificate- or associates-granting institution ever transfer to a predominantly bachelors-granting institution within eight years. We call this the state’s “transfer-out rate” or “Access” for short. Next, we compute the rate at which students who transferred from a community college go on to earn a degree from a four-year institution within eight years of initially starting community college. We call this the “transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate” or “Success,” where we emphasize the metrics presented here capture just one dimension of institutional performance and not a comprehensive assessment of whether an institution is successfully fulfilling its mission or helping its students attain their goals.9 A states’ community college BA completion rate is the product of these two state-level metrics. The performance of individual institutions along these two metrics contribute to the state-level performance of the two-year and four-year sectors, which in turn determines the overall state transfer performance shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 illustrates how high levels of both access and success are necessary for a state to have high overall performance. For example, Illinois has similar access levels to other states, however Illinois has significantly higher success and consequently is the third highest state overall in Figure 1.


Figure 2. State-level Community College Access and Success Metrics for Title IV Students
(download data as a spreadsheet)

Figure 2: A scatter plot of states’ two-year institution transfer-out rates along the horizontal axis and states’ four-year institution transfer students’ 8-year completion rates along the vertical axis. New York and New Jersey are in the upper right corner with high transfer-out rates and transfer students’ four-year institution completion rates slighter higher than 30% and 50%, respectively. South Dakota is in the lower left corner with the lowest transfer-out rates and transfer students’ four-year institution completion rates at 13% and 29%, respectively.

To better understand the role of specific institutions in generating these state-level rates, we compute institution-specific versions of the transfer-out rate (for community colleges) and the transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate (for four-year colleges).10

Tables 1 and 2 report the community college and four-year institution in each state that have the highest transfer-out rate and the highest transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate, respectively.11,12 Even across the top institutions in each state there are considerable differences in these metrics. Among the community colleges with the states’ top transfer-out rates the average is about 38 percent, but they range from 71 percent down to 19 percent. Among the four-year institutions with the top transfers’ bachelor’s completion rates, the average is 66 percent, ranging from 89 percent down to 30 percent. Thus, even among the top performing institutions in each state, there is still a wide range of performance across institutions. The Department is releasing a complete list of all community colleges and four-year institutions in each state that have a sufficient number of students to be able to compute the transfer-out rate and the transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate, respectively.13 This list can be found here.

The Importance of Partnerships

The above metrics are measured at institutions separately, though an institution’s performance is influenced by the policies of the state in which it is located and policies and practices of potential partner institutions. For instance, co-located two-year and four-year institutions with strong transfer policies in place, such as common course numbering systems or articulation agreements, will mutually benefit both institutions. Given the codependence of individual two- and four-years’ performance, it is important to understand the role of these relationships in improving overall transfer performance.

The documented success of institutional partnerships – such as Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University’s ADVANCE or the Valencia Community College and University of Central Florida’s DirectConnect programs – illustrate that the relationships between pairs of institutions may play a key role in facilitating efficient transfer. To investigate this further, we measure the performance of institution “dyads” in each state and describe how they contribute to overall state transfer performance.

We define a dyad as a pair of institutions consisting of a public community college and a public or private four-year institution. Rather than look at all possible combinations of all two- and four-year institutions, we restrict the set of dyads we analyze to pairs of institutions where there is reasonable potential to have many students transfer between them. We do this by creating pairs of institutions where the share of students who send FAFSA information to a community college that also send to a specific 4-year institution is high, which we refer to as FAFSA sending overlap.14 Within a dyad, we measure transfer performance as the share of students who start at the dyad’s community college that go on to eventually graduate from the dyad’s four-year institution. We call this metric the dyad bachelor’s completion rate.15 As with the institution performance metrics, there is considerable variation in performance across the top dyad in each state, listed in Table 3. Among the states’ top dyad bachelor’s completion rates the average is about eight percent, but these range from 20 percent down to one percent.

Figure 3: Dyad BA Completion Rate for Title IV Students, selected states and dyads

(download data as a spreadsheet)

Figure 3: A scatter plot of dyads with dyads’ state names along the horizontal axis and the dyads’ performance metric along the vertical axis. Dyads are individual points on the scatterplot, where dyads are plotted within a state on the horizontal axis according to their performance along the vertical axis. The dyad performance metric is the share of a dyad’s two-year institution starters that graduate from the dyad’s four-year institution within eight years. The figure includes dyads within four states: Virginia, California, Oregon, and Ohio. The dyads within Virginia have the highest average performance of the states included at about 6.3%. The individual dyad of Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University has the highest performance of the dyads plotted at about 12.6%. The dyads within Ohio have the lowest average performance of the states included with an average of about 3%. The individual dyad of Owens Community College and University of Toledo has the lowest performance of the dyads plotted at about 2.6%.

States’ overall performance seems to be driven in part by the performance of dyads within each state, particularly involving large community colleges. In Figure 3 we compare the ranking of states from Figure 1 to the performance of the dyads in each state. We include dyads formed by the five highest enrollment community colleges in each state and for each community college the four-year institutions with the highest FAFSA sends overlap. We label an illustrative high and low performing dyad in each state. States with lower overall transfer performance, such as Ohio, tend to have lower performance among their largest dyads. Whereas states with higher overall transfer performance, such as Virginia and California, tend to have higher performance among their largest dyads. Some pairs of institutions with known partnerships, such as Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, have particularly high rates. We interpret this as suggestive evidence that having high-performing dyads in a state may contribute to overall transfer performance. This figure also illustrates that, even within high performing states, dyads differ considerably in their transfer performance.


The potential for the U.S. postsecondary education system to provide an effective pathway from community colleges to the baccalaureate depends on a complex system of relationships between state policies, the community college and four-year sectors, and individual institutions within these states. The considerable difference in transfer performance among states is not just a function of community colleges and four-year institutions acting in isolation. In addition to enacting and implementing effective state transfer policy, state differences also derive in part from differences in the performance of partnerships between institutions in the community college and four-year sectors. An important step in understanding what makes for an effective transfer system is understanding what makes a dyad a high performer. Investigating the features of top performing dyads may unlock new insights into understanding how to improve the performance of dyads that have unrealized potential to improve transfer student completion.


Table 1: Community colleges with highest transfer-out rate for Title IV students, by state
State Institution (entity) name Transfer-out Rate: Share of 2-year starters ever enrolled in 4-year institution within 8 years Number of students starting in 2-year cohort in 2014 Number of 2-year cohort students ever enrolled at a 4-year within 8 years
AL Marion Military Institute 62% 149 93
AR NorthWest Arkansas Community College 32% 826 263
AZ Chandler-Gilbert Community College 36% 855 308
CA Irvine Valley College 53% 386 205
CO Colorado Northwestern Community College 36% 86 31
CT Norwalk Community College 32% 452 146
DE Delaware Technical Community College-Terry 24% 1450 347
FL Tallahassee Community College 37% 1610 590
GA South Georgia State College 50% 560 281
HI Kapiolani Community College 36% 461 168
IA Ellsworth Community College 46% 229 106
ID College of Southern Idaho 26% 617 162
IL William Rainey Harper College 41% 1048 431
IN Vincennes University 21% 1527 317
KS Barton County Community College 45% 219 98
KY Hopkinsville Community College 26% 348 92
LA Louisiana State University-Eunice 35% 417 148
MA Massachusetts Bay Community College 39% 451 176
MD Montgomery College 43% 1856 805
ME Kennebec Valley Community College 27% 191 52
MI Muskegon Community College 34% 556 188
MN Normandale Community College 36% 846 304
MO St Charles Community College 33% 637 210
MS Mississippi Delta Community College 43% 478 206
MT Dawson Community College 52% 65 34
NC Coastal Carolina Community College 31% 309 95
ND Dakota College at Bottineau 41% 106 43
NE Mid-Plains Community College 29% 275 80
NH NHTI-Concord’s Community College 31% 720 226
NJ County College of Morris 48% 717 345
NM New Mexico Military Institute 71% 103 73
NV Western Nevada College 27% 221 59
NY Stella and Charles Guttman Community College 55% 173 95
OH Columbus State Community College 31% 2025 632
OK Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College 39% 444 173
OR Clackamas Community College 29% 475 136
PA Bucks County Community College 44% 700 311
RI Community College of Rhode Island 25% 2172 544
SC University of South Carolina-Sumter 61% 127 78
SD Western Dakota Technical Institute 19% 182 35
TN Motlow State Community College 32% 569 184
TX The University of Texas at Brownsville 49% 1293 628
UT Snow College 43% 602 259
VA Richard Bland College of the College of William and Mary 47% 245 116
VT Community College of Vermont 23% 491 115
WA Bellevue College 42% 375 159
WI University of Wisconsin Colleges 45% 1740 780
WV Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College 26% 338 87
WY Northwest College 31% 179 55
Table 2: Four-year institutions with highest transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate for Title IV students, by state
State Institution (entity) name Transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate (8-year) Number of community college students transferring within 4 years to BA-granting institution Number of degrees granted at BA-granting institution among community college students transferring within 4 years
AL Auburn University 67% 188 126
AR University of Arkansas 54% 190 103
AZ University of Arizona 61% 261 158
CA California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo 89% 45 40
CO University of Northern Colorado 60% 102 61
CT University of Connecticut 74% 107 79
DE Wilmington University 30% 156 47
FL University of Miami 80% 56 45
GA University of Georgia 72% 81 58
HI University of Hawaii at Manoa 64% 215 137
IA Mount Mercy University 86% 36 31
ID University of Idaho 63% 65 41
IL University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 89% 207 184
IN Purdue University-Main Campus 74% 70 52
KS Kansas State University 54% 213 114
KY University of Kentucky 63% 121 76
LA Louisiana State University and A&M College 63% 158 99
MA University of Massachusetts-Lowell 62% 244 152
MD University of Maryland-College Park 76% 331 250
ME University of Southern Maine 54% 82 44
MI University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 88% 68 60
MN University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 67% 248 167
MO Missouri University of Science and Technology 74% 62 46
MS Mississippi University for Women 64% 85 54
NC University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 78% 92 72
ND North Dakota State University-Main Campus 62% 131 81
NE University of Nebraska-Lincoln 60% 139 84
NH University of New Hampshire-Main Campus 58% 76 44
NJ The College of New Jersey 86% 42 36
NM University of New Mexico-Main Campus 43% 222 95
NV University of Nevada-Reno 66% 129 85
NY Saint John Fisher College 78% 54 42
OH Ohio State University-Main Campus 60% 337 202
OK Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 62% 295 184
OR University of Oregon 65% 137 89
PA Thomas Jefferson University 67% 55 37
RI University of Rhode Island 69% 89 61
SC Clemson University 74% 300 222
TN Tennessee Technological University 67% 129 86
TX Texas A & M University-College Station 85% 436 372
UT University of Utah 55% 168 92
VA Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 87% 135 118
WA Western Washington University 73% 108 79
WI University of Wisconsin-Madison 75% 109 82
WV Fairmont State University 58% 57 33
WY University of Wyoming 60% 119 71
Table 3: Dyads with highest dyad bachelor’s completion rate for Title IV students, by states
State Dyad name Dyad bachelor’s completion rate (8-year) Number of students starting at 2-year in 2014 Number of students starting at 2-year that ever graduate from the 4-year within 8 years
AL Southern Union State Community College X Auburn University 7% 710 47
AZ Chandler-Gilbert Community College X Arizona State University Campus Immersion 12% 855 103
AR NorthWest Arkansas Community College X University of Arkansas 9% 826 71
CA Irvine Valley College X California State University-Fullerton 13% 386 50
CO Pikes Peak State College X University of Colorado Colorado Springs 4% 1233 50
CT Manchester Community College X Central Connecticut State University 5% 681 37
DE Delaware Technical Community College-Terry X Wilmington University 3% 1450 48
FL Tallahassee Community College X Florida State University 12% 1610 197
GA East Georgia State College X Georgia Southern University 12% 686 85
HI Kapiolani Community College X University of Hawaii at Manoa 16% 461 76
ID College of Western Idaho X Boise State University 7% 1062 70
IL Heartland Community College X Illinois State University 13% 433 55
IN Ivy Tech Community College X Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis 1% 9552 116
IA Hawkeye Community College X University of Northern Iowa 8% 686 55
KS Butler Community College X Wichita State University 8% 885 73
KY Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College X Western Kentucky University 7% 454 31
LA South Louisiana Community College X University of Louisiana at Lafayette 8% 620 49
ME Southern Maine Community College X University of Southern Maine 4% 884 34
MD Wor-Wic Community College X Salisbury University 10% 385 39
MA Middlesex Community College X University of Massachusetts-Lowell 11% 990 104
MI Kalamazoo Valley Community College X Western Michigan University 8% 914 77
MN Rochester Community and Technical College X Winona State University 6% 674 43
MS Jones County Junior College X University of Southern Mississippi 4% 757 33
MO Missouri State University-West Plains X Missouri State University-Springfield 11% 290 31
NE Northeast Community College X Wayne State College 6% 585 33
NV Truckee Meadows Community College X University of Nevada-Reno 7% 694 47
NJ Middlesex College X Rutgers University-New Brunswick 9% 1216 114
NM Central New Mexico Community College X University of New Mexico-Main Campus 4% 2134 92
NY CUNY Kingsborough Community College X CUNY Brooklyn College 9% 1826 162
NC Central Piedmont Community College X University of North Carolina at Charlotte 8% 1845 146
OH Columbus State Community College X Ohio State University-Main Campus 8% 2025 160
OK Northern Oklahoma College X Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 7% 527 39
OR Portland Community College X Portland State University 6% 1852 120
PA Bucks County Community College X Temple University 9% 700 60
RI Community College of Rhode Island X Rhode Island College 4% 2172 85
SC Tri-County Technical College X Clemson University 20% 942 187
TN Northeast State Community College X East Tennessee State University 8% 668 51
TX Blinn College District X Texas A & M University-College Station 12% 2311 272
UT Snow College X Utah State University 5% 602 33
VA Northern Virginia Community College X George Mason University 13% 3766 503
WA Seattle Central College X University of Washington-Seattle Campus 13% 259 33
WI Northeast Wisconsin Technical College X University of Wisconsin-Green Bay 5% 879 40


1.  This blog and subsequent analysis focuses on the role of community colleges in facilitating bachelor’s degree completion for students. For a broader view of the many goals and roles of community colleges, see Cohen, A., Brawer, F., & Kisker, C. (2013). The American Community College, Sixth Edition. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

2.  Community College Research Center, “Policy Fact Sheet: Community College Transfer,” 2021.

3.  Forthcoming findings from CCRC analyses of NSC data, 2023.

5.  For a recent summary of the research on factors and policies influencing community college transfer success that undergirds these strategies, see Soliz, A. & Mesa, H. (2023). Improving community college to university transfer. Education Finance and Policy. Forthcoming. Available at

6.  We include public postsecondary institutions whose predominant credential granted is either a certificate or Associate’s degree in our definition of community colleges. Institutions in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia are excluded.

7.  For expositional ease we refer to earning a degree from a predominately bachelor’s granting institution as “earning a bachelor’s,” though this will miss students that earn bachelor’s degrees from community colleges.

8.  This overall rate is slightly lower than the share of all students (Title IV and non-Title IV) cited above from CCRC analysis, but differences in sample, degree measurement, and time horizon make the numbers not directly comparable to each other.

9.  For the cohort we study we only have data on the institution from which students graduated – not the actual degree received – so the bachelor’s completion rate refers to students completing a degree at a predominantly bachelor’s granting institution.

10.  Transfer-out rate for specific community colleges is measured the same as for the state overall, albeit with only enrollees at the focal community college included in the numerator and denominator. The transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate is more complicated to measure at the institution level. For each predominantly bachelor’s-granting institution, we first identified the cohort of individuals who started at a community college and transferred to that institution within 4 years. We then calculated the share of this cohort who graduated from the specific four-year institution within eight years of initially starting community college.

11.  An important caveat to these rates is that they do not capture the magnitude of students who are transferring or graduating. For instance, at the top community college in Virginia, Richard Bland College of the College of William and Mary, 116 of its students ever enroll at a 4-year institution. Whereas at Northern Virginia Community College 1609 students ever enroll at a 4-year institution.

12.  We only calculate rates for institutions that have at least 30 students in our sample in both the numerator and denominator. If a state does not have an institution that meets this requirement in our sample, then they are omitted for the rankings and analyses.

13.  Any community colleges with fewer than 30 students in an entering or exiting transfer cohort are omitted. Any four-year institutions with fewer than 30 students in a transfer cohort or fewer than 30 students completing a degree are omitted.

14.  Much prior work looking at partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions typically examines dyads that already have a substantial number of students transferring. This approach will fail to identify dyads where there should be more transfers but there are not. In practice, the set of dyads that we identify are nearly identical to the dyads identified by using the observed number of transfers.

15.  Like the transfers’ bachelor’s completion rate, the dyad bachelor’s completion rate refers to students completing a degree at the predominantly bachelor’s granting dyad institution because we do not observe the actual degree type students earn.

Trends in Federal Student Loan Borrower Payments Through the End of the Payment Pause: A Comparison of Different Federal Data Sources 

By: Jordan Matsudaira, Daniel Pollard, and Victoria Lee

October 2023

This month payments on most non-defaulted federal student loans came due for the first time in 43 months. The Biden-Harris Administration is working hard to support borrowers as they successfully navigate this return to repayment, and we are making sure they have the resources, tools, and information they need to find the best repayment plans and access other programs that can help them manage their student loans. Borrowers always are encouraged to use self-service options on their loan servicer websites including enrolling in auto-debit, updating their contact information, checking their loan balance, and applying for an income-driven repayment plan, such as the Saving on A Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, the most affordable repayment plan ever.  

This blog presents data showing trends in payments from just prior to the start of the pause on federal loan payments through September of 2023. Several commenters have looked to data on aggregate deposits into the Treasury General Account from the U.S. Department of Education (Department) from the Daily Treasury Statement to track borrowers’ progress in making repayments because these are available daily with very little lag.  The Department collects more detailed data on individual loan payments from its loan servicers in the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) that enable more sophisticated analyses, but these data become available with a more significant lag.  We illustrate how data from these different sources depict how student loan payments evolved from prior to the student loan payment pause through September 2023—the month before payments came due after its end. We hope to provide observers with more context to aid in the interpretation of the DTS data that are more readily available and anticipate providing updates in the future. 

The United States Treasury reports daily cash and debt operations—withdrawals and deposits from various federal agencies—through the Daily Treasury Statement (DTS).  DTS deposits include all payments and collections on ED-serviced loans (including payments to loans in the Direct Loan Program, and payments to federally managed FFEL and Perkins loans). Collections from consolidation of ED-held loans by private companies are included in the deposits to Treasury, but consolidations of non-defaulted loans are not.  Deposits do not include payments and collections on commercially held FFEL loans or Perkins Loans held by colleges and universities. Collections on ED-serviced loans in default include voluntary payments and non-payment deposits (e.g. administrative wage garnishment, offsets, rehabilitation payments, and direct consolidation). 

The Department collects data on individual-level payments borrowers make to federal loan servicers through its National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). These data include payments on ED-serviced loans that are not in default, but not collections from loans in default (though such data is available in separate systems) which are reported in the DTS.  Scheduled zero-dollar payments for borrowers on Income Driven Repayment plans are also included. In FY 2019, collections from federal loan servicers constituted about 91.7% of all deposits reported in the DTS data, with collections from DMCS accounting for another 6.3%. Just over 2% of deposits were unrelated to student loans. Prior to the student loan payment pause about these numbers were lower during the payment pause, averaging about 86.6% and 4.7% over FY 2022. 

Figure 1 below shows how trends in the deposits to ED accounts in the DTS data compare to internal ED data from NSLDS.  While the DTS tend to report higher values of aggregate payments (because the data include collections on ED-serviced loans as well as collections on defaulted loans and a variety of deposits to the Department unrelated to borrowers at all), the trends in DTS aggregate payments and ED internal data on aggregate payments mirror each other very closely.  As both data series show, payments fell abruptly at in April of 2020 with the start of the payment pause, but did not fall to zero.  Using NSLDS data, borrowers with non-defaulted loans serviced by ED made monthly payments of about $5.1 billion in the last half (i.e. July to December) of CY 2019; which fell to $2 billion in the same months in 2020 and 2021, and about $981 million in the last half of 2022. 

Starting between June and July of 2023, aggregate monthly payments recorded in NSLDS increased and then jumped in August and September to levels that were higher than prior to the payment pause. In the first six months of the 2023, the average monthly treasury payment to ED was $1.2 billion. This increased to $2.1 billion in July 2023, $6.4 billion in August 2023, and just under $7.0 billion in September.  

Figure 1: Aggregate Borrower Payments by Month:  October 2018 to September 2023  

Source: Department of Education analysis of Daily Treasury Statement and internal data bases.   Note: Treasury and ED data appear to converge in August 2023. This is due to a spike in payments that are attributed to August 31, 2023 in ED data and September 1, 2023 in Treasury data. This convergence reflects differences in accounting timing rather than substantive changes in the differences between Treasury and ED data.   

The Department’s NSLDS data allow a more granular view of payment trends, and in particular allow us to decompose aggregate payments into the number of borrowers making payments and the average payment per borrower.  Figure 2 shows recent trends through the first nine months of 2023 in the number of borrowers making (non-zero) dollar payments and their average payment, and the same data for the last year before the payment pause (2019) for reference.  In the first half of this year, about 1.1 million borrowers made non-zero payments each month—down from an average of 11.9 million over the same period in 2019 (an additional 2.4 million borrowers were making zero-dollar payments on IDR in the first half of 2019).  The average payment per borrower was about $756 in the first half of 2023, up from $410 in 2019. 

Figure 2 makes it clear that the surge in aggregate payments shown in DTS data between August and September were driven by much larger payments driven by a small number of borrowers.  Relative to the first half of the year, the number of borrowers making payments rose to 1.4 and 2.1 times higher, respectively, in August and September this year.  At the same time, average payments spiked to 5.9 and 3.2 times its level in the first half of the year. 

Figure 2: Total Borrowers and Average Payments, 2019 and 2023 (through September)  

Source: Department of Education analysis of Daily Treasury Statement and internal data bases. 

As a result of this spike in payments, aggregate average payments (from NSLDS data) were 27% higher on average in August and September of 2023 than they were in the same two months of 2019.  This overall increase was a function of average payments being 8.2 times higher in those months in 2023 relative to 2019, while the number of borrowers making (non-zero) payments in August and September was only 17% of the number in those months in 2019.  

 This month, we expect a greater number of borrowers to start making payments on their student loans, and as that happens the average payment per borrower will likely fall back closer to its 2019 level.  It may be several months, however, before aggregate payment data shown in the DTS provide an indication for the number of borrowers making payments, especially in comparison to years prior to the pause.  The Biden-Harris Administration has made substantial changes to fix the student loan system, so we do not necessarily expect to match 2019 patterns moving forward. As increasing numbers of borrowers avail themselves of more generous repayment options in the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) income driven repayment plan, overall monthly payments are likely to decline.   

New Report: Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing commitment to advance diversity and opportunity in higher education, the U.S. Department of Education released “Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education,” a report to guide state and higher education leaders on policies and practices to advance diversity on college campuses. The report reviews evidence-based strategies and promising practices in the areas of outreach, admissions, financial aid and funding, and college completion. The report will serve as a resource to help guide institutions and states as they respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina et al. (collectively “SFFA”). The Biden-Harris Administration calls upon higher education to remain committed to the diversity that is our country’s greatest strength.

View the report here: Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education

The Department of Education strives to make all content accessible to everyone. While this document does not currently meet the standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, the Office of the Under Secretary is working to create an accessible version. If you need access to this content before the accessible version is available, please contact the Information Technology Accessibility Program Help Desk at to help facilitate.

New Report: Trends in Federal Student Loans for Graduate School

Thumbnail Image Figure 1 of Trends in Federal Student Loans for Graduate School

Increases in graduate school attendance and falling undergraduate enrollment mean that graduate student borrowing now accounts for just under half of federal student loan disbursements.  This report is the first in a series of OCE reports on graduate student borrowing, providing background in enrollment and degree attainment. These trends connect to several changes in the federal loan portfolio, including the rise in high-balance borrowers, a higher prevalence of student debt among older borrowers, and gaps in debt levels across borrower demographic groups. This report highlights the labor market returns associated with graduate education, but also documents a concerning disconnect between borrowing levels and students’ earnings outcomes.

View the report here: Trends in Federal Student Loans for Graduate School

Under Secretary Kvaal Delivers Remarks on Fresh Start, Student Loan Reforms


On August 9, 2022, Under Secretary James Kvaal delivered a keynote address to the Student Borrower Protection Center for their panel series on “Solutions to Address Student Loan Default and Collections.” Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.


“Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I’m pleased to be here and grateful to the Student Borrower Protection Center and so many other organizations bringing forward real solutions to the student loan default crisis. Make no mistake, it is a crisis.

Across the nation, more than 7.5 million borrowers have a loan in default. That’s about one out of every six student loan borrowers in the nation. More than the entire population of my home state of Massachusetts.  Of course, this comparison doesn’t really do the crisis justice. The population of Massachusetts does not grow by a million people each year – which is how many more borrowers landed in default annually, at least in pre-pandemic times.

If there’s anything I know about this crisis, it’s this: nothing good comes out of default. Save for the debt collectors, there are no winners.

All default does is drive borrowers already facing financial hardships into an even deeper hole. Low-income workers can find their wages garnished, and lose tax benefits like the EITC and the child tax credit, which have become essential in the fight against poverty.  Seniors can see portions of their Social Security checks seized.

Default also causes borrowers’ credit scores to tank, driving up the cost of every financial product you can imagine.  Mortgages. Car loans. Credit cards. You name it.

Some have surely had their rental applications denied or been turned down by employers.  And of course, people with poor credit are steered into risky financial products that often leave them deeper in debt.

The consequences of default are so punitive, it’s as if whoever designed these policies assumed borrowers were trying to somehow beat the system.

I think we can all agree that defaulting on student loan debt is about the farthest thing from a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s more like a stay-in debt-forever scheme.

Even if you were a hard-nosed accountant who only cared about collecting money for taxpayers – it makes no sense to try to collect a loan by driving borrowers into poverty and preventing them from getting back on their feet. And student debt is more than that – there are lives at stake.

Here’s the truth.  By and large, borrowers who default on their student loans are people who have been failed by broken policies and lagging investments in college affordability.

They provide the most compelling evidence that the student loan system needs fundamental change!

We badly need colleges to be an engine of upward mobility and greater racial equity. But too many of these borrowers dropped out of college before earning their degrees.  Others got degrees from dubious institutions they later found out were worthless in the job market.

They are first-generation college students, former Pell recipients, and students of color. They are parents and full-time workers trying to get a better job to support their children.

I don’t have to tell anyone in this room today that in the coming weeks, there are some very important decisions to be made about student loan policy. Whatever happens, I know this: we can never again grow numb to a financial havoc wreaked by crisis that lands a million students a year into default.

President Biden has done more to put the brakes on this crisis than any leader in history. The student loan payment and interest freeze has not only saved the typical borrower in repayment $4,400 since January 2021 – it’s bought us time to focus on fixing fundamental flaws in the system.

For example, we’re fixing debt relief programs that up until now, didn’t deliver much debt relief. Already, we’ve approved nearly $28 billion in relief for nearly 1.4 million borrowers.  Many of them were failed by programs designed to help them!

Like teachers and nurses denied Public Student Loan Forgiveness.  Before President Biden, just 7,000 people ever qualified. Today, we’ve delivered nearly $10 billion to 175,000 public servants!  Now, we’re working to automate the process for federal workers by matching data between Federal Student Aid, the Pentagon, and the Office of Personnel Management.

Likewise, we’re automatically forgiving debts for many borrowers after 25 years of repayment.  We’ve also wiped out debt for nearly 385,000 disabled Americans who were eligible for relief but could not overcome all the red tape.  Here too, we’re automating the process by using a data match with the Social Security Administration.

We’re also standing up for students defrauded by for-profit colleges like never before. Already, we’ve approved long-overdue discharges for 800,000 borrowers who were cheated by their institutions. Many of them waited years for relief and were callously ignored by the Trump administration.

That’s why we’re streamlining the process for future borrower defense claims, and making sure that students get automatic cancellation if their schools just up and close their doors one day.

We’re also toughening oversight to protect students from future abuse, which is important, because we know that default rates are higher among students who attend for-profit colleges.

The nearly $28 billion we’ve approved for forgiveness is not a static number. More borrowers qualify every day – and we will work tirelessly to make sure all eligible borrowers get the relief they deserve.

We’re also thinking about today’s students. The young people borrowing new loans, as we speak, to pay for college this fall. They shouldn’t have to inherit programs that do not work.

We must make sure our student loan forgiveness programs work as intended, for the long haul.  That is why we recently proposed new regulations that would improve all these discharge programs and end interest capitalization, where not required by statute, at a cost of $85 billion over 10 years.

These programs are worth running well. They cancel entire loans, and they will protect past, present, and future borrowers. And, we’re committed to helping borrowers who’ve already been failed by the system.

In April, President Biden announced plans to give 7.5 million borrowers in default a “fresh start.” With fresh start, we will help borrowers take advantage of today’s repayment options and pathways to forgiveness.

We will restore students’ access to financial aid so they can go back to school and complete their degrees, earn higher wages and succeed in life.

We will halt costly collection fees and overly punitive collection efforts, help borrowers who rehabilitated loans during the payment freeze, and update the Credit Alert Verification Reporting System so that people can get access to the financial products they need to thrive.

And that brings us to the title of today’s session – beyond fresh start. Going forward, we must build a better, fairer, more affordable system so that fewer borrowers wind up in default.

On the campaign trail, President Biden talked about reducing monthly payments.  In the coming weeks, we’ll invite public comment on a proposal to do just that – with a new income-driven repayment plan, with much lower payments.

We welcome your input, especially with respect to giving borrowers with loans in default access to these plans and enrolling delinquent borrowers to keep them out of default.

We’re also working to strengthen accountability with student loan servicers and debt collectors.  Richard Cordray is leading Federal Student Aid through the current procurement process, and as always, he’s looking out for borrowers.

We want accountability baked into these agreements. We will hold contractors accountable for borrowers’ delinquency and default rates, using an array of pricing, allocations, bonuses and penalties to drive better results.  We should own our contractors, not the other way around!

FSA is also pursuing a more flexible procurement strategy and making major technology upgrades. By giving FSA more timely and reliable data, we can make it easier to transfer loans between servicers and communicate directly with borrowers.

Finally, we need your help creating a system that helps borrowers stay on track, and if they default, humanely and effectively helps them get back on their feet.

We need the voices of experts, advocates and borrowers to help us tackle big questions.

How can we stop so many borrowers from defaulting each year? The federal student loan system has dozens of ways to reduce or postpone payments, but they aren’t working.

How can we spare borrowers from the double whammy of loss in repayment options and punitive collection practices?  The current system seems to throw drowning borrowers a 50-pound anchor when what they need is a life-raft.

How can we make collections efforts less punitive, so they don’t push borrowers deeper into debt? How is it fair that some defaulted borrowers are forced to pay more annually than any payment plan ever would?

Why is it so hard for borrowers who are ready and willing to begin repayment to do so? How can we free them from the vast web of overlapping forced collections, wage garnishment, rehabilitative payments, and other barriers?

We provide student loans because, even for all the faults of our higher education system today, a college degree remains our nation’s surest on-ramp to higher-paying wages and long-term financial security.

That’s why our nation needs to make much larger investments in free community college, doubling Pell grants, and other steps to transform how college is financed.

We also need the guts to stand up to colleges that leave students in debt they will never be able to repay. And we need to make sure that no student is left worse off than if they never went to college at all.

Defaulting on a student loan should not be a lifelong sentence of financial struggle and despair.

So thank you for gathering on this important topic – thank you for your work on behalf of borrowers – and thank you for pushing us, publicly and privately, to do more to address the student debt crisis.

I’m proud of the progress we are making. We needed your help to make it this far – and with your help, we can go even further. Thank you.”