College hat, diploma and money

The Department of Education is expanding its College Scorecard to provide more information  for parents and students during their college search, but they will have to wait about two more months to access what may be the most prized data: debt loads by student major at individual institutions.

That data is currently available on in a preliminary form that uses massive amounts of computer storage and therefore accessible primarily by researchers.

(Related: Best & Worst College Cost Calculators)

When the expanded debt data is accessible for consumers on the College Scorecard website, it is expected to be linked to future earnings by major. That will be especially valuable for parents and students, says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com.

He explained: “To illustrate the value, Harvey Mudd is often listed as the Liberal Arts college with the highest average income after graduation, but that’s because they mainly graduate students in STEM. It does not mean that English majors should go to Harvey Mudd. With the new data, one will be able to create ranked lists of colleges based on the performance of specific majors … We’ll know which colleges have the highest debt and which have the highest income for English.”

The currently data on student debt loads on the College Scorecard is only available on an institutional basis — the percentage of students receiving federal loans, typical total debt perstudent after graduation and typical monthly loan payment and the percentage of students who have paid down at least $1 of principal on their federal student loans within three years of leaving school. There is no distinction between the debt load of a science major versus a liberal arts major or between different majors within each category.

Student debt in the U.S. has exploded to $1.5 trillion and is the second largest debt category for households, after mortgages. The average debt load at graduation is about $30,000.

While families await the more detailed debt data on institutions and majors, they can can access a redesigned College Scorecard that has been updated with more recent data on costs, graduation rates and student characteristics such as race and ethnicity. Also included in the latest version of the College Scorecard is information on 2,100 institutions that grant certificates, rather than degrees, in addition to data on 3,700 degree-granting institutions. and graduation rates for students who are not attending college for the first time and who aren’t attending full-time.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: