Order Code RS21760
March 8, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Student Loan Cohort Default Rates:
Exemptions for Certain
Minority Serving Institutions
Analyst in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
During the 1980s federal student loan defaults were on the rise. Congress
responded with various legislative measures intended to curb the number of defaults.
In 1990 Congress began holding higher education institutions responsible for their
student loan cohort default rates. Institutions that meet or exceed a 25% threshold for
each year in a three-year period are ineligible to participate in the federal student loan
program and the Pell Grant program. Historically black colleges and universities and
certain tribally controlled colleges and universities have been exempted from the
penalties for exceeding the cohort default rate thresholds. This exemption is scheduled
to expire in June 2004. This report will be updated as warranted.
During the 1980s federal student loan default rates increased significantly. For
example, in FY1988, the national student loan cohort default rate was 17.2%, and
increased to an all time high of 22.4% in FY1990. As a result, the federal government
was assuming a large share of the burden associated with the defaulted loans. In response
largely to the increasing default rates and the associated costs, Congress passed a series
of measures intended to decrease the number of defaults, deter students from defaulting
on their loans, and hold institutions accountable. One of these acts was the Student Loan
Reconciliation Amendments of 1989 (P.L.101-239). This act was the first time Congress
based institutional eligibility to participate in the federal student loan program on the
institution’s default rate. In the following year, Congress passed the Omnibus Budget
Reconciliation Act (OBRA) for FY1990 (P.L. 101-508), which made the aforementioned
institutional requirement effective through FY1996, and established maximum cohort
default thresholds (defined below) for continued participation in the federal student loan
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
program.1 OBRA of FY1990 exempted historically black colleges and universities
(HBCUs), as defined by Title III, Part B of the Higher Education Act (HEA), and tribally
controlled colleges and universities (TCCUs), as identified by the Tribally Controlled
Community College Assistance Act and the Navajo Community College Act from the
cohort default rate thresholds. The rate definition and exemption definition have both
been revised and extended since 1990. Presently the exemption for these schools is
scheduled to expire in June 2004.
Cohort Default Rates
Currently, one criterion for institutional eligibility for Federal Family Education
Loans (FFEL), Direct Loans (DL) and the Federal Pell Grant program is the institution’s
cohort default rate. A cohort is defined as the group of federal student loan2 borrowers
entering repayment during a fiscal year (e.g., October 1, 2002 to September 30, 2003).
The cohort default rate (CDR)3 is the percentage of borrowers defaulting4 during that year
and the subsequent fiscal year (e.g., defaulted between October 1, 2002 to September 30,
2004).5 The cohort default rate for institutions having 30 or more students entering
repayment in a fiscal year is calculated by dividing the number of defaulted borrowers by
the number of borrowers entering repayment in that same period; this calculation is
known as the non-average rate formula. However, for an institution that has 29 or fewer
students in repayment, its cohort default rate is calculated by aggregating data over the
three most recent fiscal years. The average rate formula uses the number of borrowers
who entered repayment in the current fiscal year and the two preceding fiscal years and
defaulted as the numerator and the number of borrowers who entered repayment in the
current fiscal year and the two preceding fiscal years as the denominator.
If an institution has a CDR of 25% or more for each year during the three most recent
fiscal years (i.e., 2001, 2002 and 2003) it is ineligible to participate in the federal student
loan programs and in some instances the Pell Grant program.6 In addition to the loss of
For additional reading on the federal student loan programs please see CRS Report RL30048,
Federal Student Loans: Program Data and Default Statistics by Adam Stoll.
For the purposes of this paper, the federal student loan programs include Federal Family
Education Loans (FFEL) and William D. Ford Federal Direct Loans (DL).
In accordance with HEA, Title IV, Section 462(g)(1)(A).
A loan is considered to be in default after 270 days of delinquency.
Institutions are only required to report the repayment status for a federal student loan for the
first two years of repayment.
According to CFR 668.187(e) an institution can continue to participate in the Pell Grant
program if: it was ineligible to participate in FFEL and Direct Loan programs before Oct. 7,
1998, and its eligibility was not reinstated; or the institution did not certify an FFEL loan or
eligibility for a cohort default rate of 25% or higher for three years, an institution that has
a cohort default rate of 40% or more for the most recent fiscal year loses its eligibility to
participate in the federal student loan programs. Except for extenuating circumstances
and/or a successful appeal, an institution that loses its eligibility in either case remains
ineligible to participate in the programs for the remaining part of the fiscal year in which
it was notified, and for the two subsequent fiscal years.
HBCUs and TCCUs are exempt from maintaining a cohort default rate of less than
25% for a three-year period. It is important to note that these institutions are not exempt
from the 40% CDR threshold, and can be ineligible to participate in the federal student
loan programs as a result. If one of these designated institutions does have a CDR of 25%
or more for each year in the preceding three fiscal years, it can continue to participate in
the federal student loan program and Pell Grant program if, by July 1 of the year that it
is notified of its loss of eligibility, it submits a default management plan and proof that
it has engaged an independent third party to assist with the implementation of this plan.
The default management plan and the third-party engagement were a part of the 1998
Higher Education Act Amendments (P.L. 105-244). In addition, the amendments
specified that an institution that relied upon the exemption to remain eligible to participate
in the Title IV programs was required to demonstrate how it would lower its CDR to less
than 25% by July 1, 2002. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 extended the
cohort default rate exemption from June 2002 to June 2004 (P.L. 106-554).7
Institutions with CDRs at or above 25% for each of the three most recent consecutive
fiscal years and that wish to participate in the federal student loan program and the Pell
Grant program must submit a default management plan. The plan must contain specific
assurances, including but not limited to:
Delineation of the appropriate personnel and resources that have been
solicited to implement the default management plan.
Proof that a default management team has been assembled, and that the
team includes the chief executive officer, and other relevant senior
executives and administrative offices, other than the financial aid office.
Development of an evaluation approach to collect data to measure and
verify relevant default statistics.
Upon submission and approval of the default management plan by the U.S. Department
of Education (ED), the institution must annually submit evidence it has implemented the
approved default management plan; is making substantial improvement in reducing the
CDR; and that it continues to work with an independent third party. According to
originate a Direct Loan Program loan on or after July 7, 1998; or the institution requested in
writing, before Oct. 7, 1998, to withdraw from participation in the FFEL and Direct Loan
According to H.Rept. 106-665 (H.R. 4504) the Committee extended the exemption until June
2004 because the June 2002 deadline did not provide sufficient time for the institutions to
implement the proposed actions from the default management plan.
program regulations at 34 CFR Part 668.198, substantial improvement is determined by
the institution’s ability to demonstrate improvement in the following areas:
a reduction in the most recent draft (preliminary) or official cohort
an increase in the percentage of delinquent borrowers who avoid default
by using deferments, forbearances, and/or job placement assistance;
an increase in the academic persistence of its student borrowers;
an increase in the percentage of students pursuing graduate or
an increase in the percentage of current addresses of its borrowers that
the institution has available;
an increase in the percentage of delinquent borrowers the institution has
the implementation of alternative financial aid award policies and the
development of financial resources that reduce the need for student
an increase in the percentage of accurate and timely updates made to the
National Student Loan Data System.8
The option of a default management plan is not applicable for institutions that have
a cohort default rate of 40% for the most recent fiscal year.
Institutions with low cohort default rates were previously eligible for various special
incentives. For example, prior to September 2002, an institution whose most recent CDR
was less than 10% could also deliver or disburse student loan proceeds in a single
installment to a student if that student’s loan period was less than or equal to one
semester, one trimester, or one quarter. In addition, these institutions could choose not
to delay the delivery or disbursement of the first installment of loan proceeds for first-year
first-time borrowers. Both of these institutional incentives expired on September 30,
Status of Exemption
During the two most recent cohort default rate periods (FY2001 and FY2000) for
which data are available none of the HBCUs or TCCUs had to rely upon the exemption
to remain eligible to participate in the federal student loan and Pell Grant programs.9 Data
from the five previous cohort default rate periods indicate that the cohort default rates at
The National Student Loan Data System is the U.S. Department of Education’s central database
for student aid. It receives data from schools, guaranty agencies, the Direct Loan program, the
Pell Grant program, and other U.S. Department of Education programs.
For additional information regarding institutional cohort default rates please refer to the U.S.
Department of Education’s, Cohort Default Rate Guide, available at [http://www.ifap.ed.gov/
HBCUs and TCCUs have steadily decreased. For FY2001, 67 of the 124 (54%)
participating HBCUs and TCCUs had CDRs of 10% or less, which would have made
them eligible for the institutional incentives previously referenced. In addition, 49 (40%)
of the institutions had CDRs between 10% and 19.9%. Only eight institutions (6%) had
rates of 20% or higher for FY2001.
When the extension was granted for HBCUs and TCCUs from 2002 to 2004, the
House Committee Conference report indicated that the exemption was originally granted
to these institutions because of their historical commitment to serving students who might
not otherwise attend college (H.Rept. 106-665). Moreover, the General Accounting
Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Student Loans: Characteristics of Students and
Default Rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (GAO/HEHS-98-90), that
discusses research on the characteristics of students who are most likely to default on their
student loans. Specifically, the report states that students with less academic preparation
and those who come from families with lower incomes are more likely to default on their
student loans. The report further states that HBCUs tend to enroll larger percentages of
students from both of these groups: a possible explanation for why these institutions may
have needed in the past to rely upon the exemption to the cohort default threshold to
continue participating in the federal student loan and Pell Grant programs.
As the exemption is scheduled to expire in a few months, the Congress may consider
the following questions: Should the exemption be extended to continue to provide a “fail
safe” for HBCUs and TCCUs that serve many disadvantaged students, or has the recent
data on cohort default rates at these institutions illustrated their ability to make good use
of the exemption period and therefore the exemption is no longer necessary?