Questions about using as a source | SehndeWeb

Earlier this week, I wrote an article in which I predicted that over time, graduate school debt levels would likely begin to decline. It is a prediction that I hold very loosely and that I seek to contradict at every opportunity.

The argument for the future decline in college debt hinges on the possibility that the price of college education may (and here I emphasize “could”) be at an inflection point. The combination of the shift from residential learning to online learning allows master’s students to continue working (reducing the need to borrow money to pay for school and to live), and the growth of degrees in affordable line could reset the masters market.

In a future article, I will try to understand why this prediction of a long-term trend in graduate student debt may be wrong.

In this article, I want to express my gratitude and share some thoughts on a Tweeter by Professor Robert Kelchen, Head of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Professor Kelchen tweeted:

“Here is another example of someone using a mysterious website called educationdata DOT org as a source. The higher education community has been trying to determine its veracity for years. My recommendation: Use PowerStats from NCES to quickly extract data. »

This tweet immediately struck a chord, because when writing my post, I had been hesitant to use the number.

What I wrote is:

“According to, the average cost to earn a master’s degree is $66,340 and can range between $30,000 and $120,000.”

Like Professor Kelchen, I tried to understand the background of, as I had some concerns about the accuracy of the numbers.

I included the figure because Forbes also cited the average cost of a master’s degree and cited in a 9/9/21 article What You Need to Know About a Master’s: Costs, Duration, and More.

What caused my initial concern about the $66,340 figure is that it seems high. Maybe I could buy that this is a sticker price, but I doubt the real prices (after discount/purses) are taken into account.

Do you have better data on masters program costs that you can share?

I tried to find a better number in some Google searches, but gave up too quickly. (Google’s best result is the figure).

If Kelchen is concerned about using as a source, I think we need to take that concern seriously. He is an expert in higher education funding, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. Kelchin’s 2018 book from JHU Press is out Responsibility of higher education.

Looking at, it is unclear what the Education Data Initiative is. It may be completely legitimate. It’s just hard to say.

On the About page (at the bottom), the site states:

“We are a team of researchers who believe that important discussions about education are worth starting from a factual perspective, not an opinion. Whether it’s hot topics like debt student loan or high school graduation rates, our mission is to make sure the data surrounding these topics is open and accessible.”

Although there is a donate button, there is no indication of the site’s funding source.

One of the main areas of is labeled Refinance. Here the text says:

“Find out which of the two dozen lenders we studied have the lowest refinance rates and the most honest loan terms.”

Below this text are tables with links to a wide range of lenders, with interest rates included.

Looking at the site, my theory is that the site is funded by clicks to lenders. It could be that’s business model is to drive traffic to its site by creating “original reports” (their name) on various research topics related to higher education costs and debt.

People who Google for information on higher education statistics, particularly information related to student debt, may also be likely to click on links to banks for student loan refinancing.

Again, there is nothing wrong with creating content to generate publicity. IHE is also partially ad-supported, like all other for-profit news sources.

What is potentially concerning about are two things.

First of all, it is necessary to specify the source of financing behind the site. The About page lists two people from the team. But there’s no information if they’re the only two people, if the site is part of a larger company, and how the content is funded.

Second, the lack of transparency about how the site is funded and managed calls into question the trust we should have in the data that is presented. We do not know the editorial standards or the process used to publish the “reports”.

The ratio I used in my article — the one cited by the Forbes story — is called Average Graduate Student Loan Debt. Again, this looks really legit – with a byline (Melanie Hanson), a publication date (3/10/21) and an indication that the report has been “verified”. There is a sources page listed.

At least this seems like a great opportunity for IHE (which is transparent about ownership structure, funding, and editorial standards) to do what does.

I would much rather get education statistics from a site I understand than an opaque source.

From now on, I will follow Kelchen’s advice and get my higher education data from sites like NCES.

And finally, this seems like an example where Academic Twitter has worked well in exposing potential blind spots (mine) and moving the conversation forward.

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