Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Educational Leadership, Evaluation and Organizational Development

Degree Program

Educational Leadership and Organizational Development, PhD

Committee Chair

Gross, Jacob

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Sun, Jeffrey

Committee Member

Sun, Jeffrey

Committee Member

George, Casey

Committee Member

Snyder, Kate

Author's Keywords

financial aid; student loan default; community colleges


Community colleges serve as a gateway to higher education for millions of American college students. Open-door admission policies and federal student aid facilitate the access that two-year public institutions provide, particularly for students who are under-resourced or academically under-prepared for college. However, a substantial number of community college students who use federal student loans to pay for college ultimately fail to repay the loans, yielding negative consequences for borrowers, institutions, and taxpayers.

By employing a Hierarchical Generalized Linear Model (HGLM) this study investigates individual-level and institution-level factors associated with federal student loan default among borrowers who attended a two-year public institution in a statewide system of community and technical colleges. The study findings indicate that relative to institution-level variables, individual-level variables possess much more explanatory power in predicting student loan default. Among the eleven institution-level factors included in the HGLM, only two factors were significantly associated with student loan default in the final model: the proportion of students at the institution who are eligible for the income-based Pell Grant and the unemployment rate for the county in which the institution is situated. Among the individual-level factors, being eligible for the Pell grant, being male, being classified as financially independent, requiring a medium or high level of developmental math, and requiring a developmental reading course emerged as the strongest predictors of student loan default, while earning an Associate degree, earning a higher cumulative GPA while enrolled in college, and transferring to a four-year institution prior to entering repayment were the strongest predictors of successful repayment.

This study emphasizes the need for a shift in policy pertaining to the use of cohort default rates in measuring and addressing student loan default. This issue is particularly relevant amid use of broad metrics to facilitate performance-based funding schemes in many states. Providing more attention to policy and practice that aims to reduce federal student loan default is central to the efficacy of the American federal student loan program, to the effectiveness of community colleges, and to the development of American workforce and economy.