Jason Lee, 2016

Jason Lee, a doctoral student in the Institute of Higher Education, researches the effects of student loans and financial aid policies on students and accountability policies on colleges.

Recent research, co-authored with IHE colleagues, examines the impact of increases in annual loan limits within the Stafford loan program, which is one of four primary sources of loans available to postsecondary students.

“Interestingly, while student loans are a common topic of conversation in a number of media outlets, we actually know surprisingly little about what causes students to borrow, how the availability of loans affects access and success in college, or what increased debt loads mean for students and families after graduating or dropping out, Lee explains”

Lee’s research aims to fill at least a portion of the gap in this literature by examining how students respond to the annual increase.

“Surprisingly, our research found that students and families used their newly available Stafford loan dollars to supplant borrowing from other, less favorable forms of credit, rather than increasing their overall borrowing.”

His dissertation research will consider the effects of student debt on post-graduation outcomes.

“For example, are students who have higher debt loads less likely to enroll in graduate or professional school, pursue a lower-paying public service job, purchase a home, or even start a family,” he clarifies. “Anecdotally, people are making these claims, so I think investigating them not only has merit for policy makers but may also contribute to the national conversation.”

As part of a research team led by Dr. Manuel González Canché, Lee also studies the impact of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which removed subsidized loans from the graduate student loan portfolio.

The research team recently received a grant sponsored by the Association for Institutional Research and the Access Group to investigate whether or not borrowing changed after these subsidized loans were no longer available to graduate and professional students.

In other words, did this change lead graduate students to borrow less? Was the effect consistent across graduate and professional programs? If borrowing didn’t change, what would the additional cost be to the average graduate student?

“We expect that law and medical students likely did not change their borrowing habits because of the higher costs associated with these programs, but we’re interested to see how this policy affected other graduate and professional programs,” Lee explains.

Lee hopes his research will have far reaching applications in the public policy world.

“I hope it contributes to the larger conversation that researchers are having concerning the impact of student loans and that, as part of the larger body of empirical work, may play a role in policy making.”

“I also feel really lucky to be a part of the research team,” Lee says. “Truthfully, I don’t know of any other higher education program in the country where students are involved in these kinds of efforts with faculty. By the time I graduate, I’ll have been a part of the grant process from conception through completion, which is an invaluable experience.”

After graduation, Lee plans to pursue a job in academia or work as a research analyst for a state university system or a policy organization in Washington, D.C.


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