Sexagenarians and Student Loan Debt – The New Odd Couple

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

student loan debt at retirement seekUTIf seekUT had been around in the 70s and 80s, there’s a good chance that more than 700,000 Baby Boomers would not still have outstanding student loan debt

If you are a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), you’ve probably been working on that nest egg of yours for more than 40 years. You did all the right things. You got a higher education, climbed the corporate ladder, socked money away in your 401K, paid into Social Security, raised your kids, put them through school, and now you are preparing for the joys of retiring and being a loving grandparent. You’ve been eyeing that Callaway driver or a luxury RV, planning a trip to Italy or considering a face lift to make you look as young as you feel in your Golden Years. That’s the American Dream, and you are living it – except for one little problem – you have outstanding student loan debt, and that’s moving your nest way up and out of your reach. What the heck happened!? you ask.

If this scenario fits your present situation, bear in mind that you and more than 700,000 Americans 65 years or older are in the same boat, according to a Report released on September 10th by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In fact, the debt held by post-graduate sexagenarians and septuagenarians amounted to more than $18 billion in 2013, or about 16% of the total $1.2 trillion of outstanding student loan debt.

Sadly enough, statistics also show that Boomers default on student loans at a higher rate than younger generations. According to a recent Inside Higher Ed article – Senior (Citizen) Student Debt Rising – by Michael Stratford:

“More than one-quarter of federal student loans held by individuals 65 to 74 years old are in default, compared with only 12 percent of loans held by borrowers 25 to 49 years old, the GAO found. Among the oldest borrowers, those over 75 years old, the default rate is even higher, with more than 50 percent of those loans in default.”

But wait! you say, Doesn’t a lot of that debt reflect loans taken out to put children through school? Yes, but far less than what you would expect. It turns out that approximately 80% of that loan debt is attributable to the borrower’s own education. And what’s more, many of these Boomers are repaying their loans at a much higher rate than Generation X (1965-1979), Generation Y (1980-2000), or Generation Z (2000-present). Adding insult to injury, this debt cannot be discharged, so soon-to-be retirees are facing the fact that the government can garnish their tax refunds and Social Security benefits by as much as 15% to repay delinquent student loans. There goes the Callaway driver and the trip to Italy!

This scenario isn’t limited to just those students who took loans out in the 1970s and 1980s. Consider parents today who are in their 40s or 50s and are facing the reality of funding their children’s college educations. They may consider taking out a Parent PLUS Loan, which is a loan taken out in the parents’ name. According to Robert Farrington in an article he wrote for ForbesParents: Stop Taking Out Loans For Your Child’s College Education – Parent PLUS Loans are not exactly flexible and most likely will not be forgiven either under the Federal Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Program or by the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Following an even dicier road, parents may consider taking out a private student loan (with usually higher interest rates) either in their name or as a cosigner. Perish the thought, some parents even resort to taking out home equity loans! Regardless of the loan or the reasoning behind it, these parents are ultimately going to be completely responsible for the debt incurred.

seekUT to the Rescue

Of course, the ideal outcome for students is to graduate from college debt free. Thankfully, there are more alternatives to fund higher education available to students today than ever before, but parents and students have to be aware of the potential loan debt in the first place, before they make their final decision. This is where seekUT comes in, and why students who plan to attend college in Texas can move ahead of the pack. In January of this year, UT System launched the seekUT website and interactive tool, which has proven to be a great resource for students and their parents when it comes to helping them make informed decisions about their education.

Not only does seekUT give students an idea of what their average loan debt will be, but it also gives them an idea of the average salary they will make in their chosen area of expertise once they graduate. The seekUT tool provides data that shows median earnings for graduates one and five years after receiving a degree. This information allows students and their families to select the right academic path for a more lucrative and satisfying future.

Not resting on its laurels, UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) made sure that seekUT continued to evolve over the year, launching a new version of the tool in August that is suitable for Android and iPhone use. But wait, there’s more! UT System OSI is preparing to launch the 2.0 version of seekUT later this year.

The new seekUT version will allow users to:

  • Search by institution
  • Find out what their average student debt will be by the month, rather than just the total amount
  • Access earnings data for those who received graduate and professional degrees
  • Tap data that is based on the 1st and 5th year earnings across 11 graduating classes from 2002-2012 – seven more graduating classes than what is presently offered.

The Moral of This Story

Whether you end up with a nest egg or a goose egg depends on whether you pay your student loan debt before you near retirement. As the old Chinese proverb says, “In the broken nest there are no whole eggs.” I just say, “Seek(UT) and you shall find.”

OSI Seeks a Senior Research and Policy Analyst

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

OSI seal job opportunities at UT SystemSenior Research & Policy Analyst

The Office of Strategic Initiatives is looking for a Senior Research & Policy Analyst (Job ID #1392). For more information, please view the entire job description on UT Share.

Essential Functions

Conduct complex statistical data analyses to evaluate institutional and System effectiveness using data from the UT System data warehouse and other data sources and translating analyses in a clear, straightforward, and non-technical manner for a wide variety of audiences and for dissemination in a variety of mediums. This includes:

  • Data collection and gathering, restructuring of existing data files, merging of data files from multiple sources, and data cleaning
  • Design and developing a research approach that utilizes sound and appropriate methodology, both inferential and descriptive, for the specific research question
  • Maintain comprehensive and accurate documentation of data cleaning techniques, methodological decisions, and necessary decisions and the logic/reasoning for the choices made about the research approach taken
  • Developing and writing rigorous and high quality policy papers and briefs and other publications in order to disseminate the findings and any recommendations resulting from the analyses
  • Develop creative visual displays for data findings for use on the Web, as well as for presentation of findings in meetings or conference settings
  • Representing OSI at internal and external project-related meetings. Present analyses at professional meetings and conferences, when appropriate
  • Conduct analyses to respond to regular ad hoc requests from various stakeholders in a timely and accurate manner. This may include mining data from multiple sources, including working directly with campuses to obtain the necessary data; gathering and providing comparable benchmarks (national, state, and institutional peers) for metrics of interest; working with the stakeholder to increase understanding of what data is available to answer the question posed; writing a brief synopsis of any analyses, tables/graphs, or findings; and fully and accurately sourcing and explaining any limitations of the data
  • Research and stay current with the literature and industry best practices in research methodology, statistical techniques, and data display. Monitor trends in higher education at the national, state, and institutional level in order to work with the assistant director to identify the topics for new research studies. Stay informed about System-wide initiatives and goals, as well as campus level initiatives, and collaborate with UT System and institutional colleagues to work strategically to align research project goals with those broader initiatives

Required Qualifications

  • Masters degree with at least five years of experience in higher education research and policy
  • A minimum of 5 years of experience using SAS or equivalent statistical package to conduct statistical analyses is required
  • A minimum of 5 years of experience working with complex, large-scale datasets. Analytic experience should include a full range of professional statistical work such as sampling; survey response bias analysis; collecting, cleaning, and conducting both descriptive, as well as complex inferential analyses; and interpreting results of statistical techniques such as simple and multiple correlation, analysis of variance, regression, and tests of significance. Candidates should have experience in conducting research and analyzing quantitative information with an eye towards communications and policy evaluation and development. Strong communication skills, both written and oral.
  • Proven ability to complete projects with attention to detail and a high degree of accuracy, to work independently, with minimal supervision, and function as part of a collaborative team
  • Advanced ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously, work in a fast paced environment and shift priorities quickly, without losing track of project or deadlines.

Are You a Data Warehouse Developer? OSI Is Looking For You

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

OSI seal job opportunities at UT System

Data Warehouse Developer

The Office of Strategic Initiatives is looking for a Data Warehouse Developer (Job ID #1391). For more information, please view the entire job description on UT Share.

Essential Functions

  • Participate in the development of a System-wide research data warehouse, which includes data integration, data quality, data cleansing, and other Extract/Transform/Load (ETL)-related activities
  • Work with ETL and reporting tools such as Data Integration Studio to load data into the warehouse and extract data for various usages.
  • Assist in the coordination and compilation of an information repository from national, state, component and internal database system
  • Assist in the visual and technical layout of the dashboard and interfaces, web development of portals, reports, visual analytics, data dictionaries, and additional links. Develop and edit website content
  • Ensure accuracy and integrity of data and applications through analysis, coding, writing clear documentation, and problem resolution
  • Provide end user training on application software and possibly develop user manuals
  • Provide technical knowledge of ETL solutions for Business Intelligence projects
  • Analyze and translate functional specifications and change requests into technical specifications
  • Develop and maintain information systems and software, including problem identification, analysis, database structure design, testing, and implementation
  • Create and maintain development and production environments, implementation of appropriate tools and technologies, establish users and permissions as required

Required Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Science, Information Systems, or related field and 3 years of experience with data warehousing, data mining, query, and data analytics tools to include 1 year of experience as an ETL Analyst in a dimensional data warehouse environment. Ability to complete assignments with attention to detail and a high degree of accuracy, to work independently, with general supervision, and function as part of a collaborative team. Advanced ability to shift priorities quickly, without losing tract of projects.

Elizabeth Cockerham Joins OSI as Project Manager

August 25, 2014 Leave a comment

OSI New Hire higher educationAccording to, the last name Cockerham is a locational surname.  The town of Cockerham, which is located south of Lancaster in Lancashire, started out as a homestead (“ham”) on the River Cocker. Not to be mistaken with the rock star Joe, cocker actually means “winding.”

Is this English geography important? Of course it is. Cockerham just happens to be the ancestral provenance of Elizabeth Cockerham, OSI’s newest family member.

Elizabeth joins OSI as an experienced and multi-talented Project Manager who will manage the numerous facets of the Research Data Warehouse initiative, as well as lead multiple projects to deliver business critical data. Some of her other responsibilities will include project planning, requirements definition, analysis, development of risk mitigation strategies, and ensuring the quality of projects through testing and validation activities.

A Native Texan and Air Force brat, Elizabeth has lived and worked in many places, including Washington, D.C., a number of Mid-Atlantic states, and New York City, as well as London, England. Elizabeth brings 20 years of diverse business and technical experience as a project manager, grant and compliance director, human resource manager, consultant, and small business owner.

A graduate of Louisiana College, Elizabeth received a BA in Theatre Arts Management with a minor in Psychology. Since that time, she has directed the implementation of projects varying from high visibility state projects to small website implementations for non-profit organizations. Most recently, she served as a project manager for Blackbaud.

Additionally, Elizabeth enjoys an activity-filled life, traveling, cycling, participating and directing triathlons, and partaking in any water activity she can find.

Your Smartphone Just Got a Little Smarter Now That It Can Access seekUT

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

seekUT Dashboard student data siteI’m at a payphone trying to call you

All of my change I spent on you . . . NOT!

Keep the change. seekUT can now be accessed via smartphone!

I mean, really, who uses payphones anymore? The Maroon 5 song is catchy, but it doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to accessing UT System’s seekUT tool, which, by the way, is not available by payphone. As of today, however, it is certainly available via mobile phone.

The seekUT website, which is now suitable for Android and iPhone use, is designed to provide users with the three key pieces of data from seekUT: median first-year earnings, median fifth-year earnings, and average student loan debt for UT System graduates by major.

The seekUT website and interactive tool, which made its debut in January 2014, evolved as a result of recommendations by the Student Debt Reduction Task Force to explore potential solutions to the issue of growing student debt. After the initial launch, the seekUT tool was made accessible via an iPad and other tablet devices. Today the new version of seekUT can be accessed from smartphones.

I talked with OSI Assistant Director Jessica Shedd, who was the lead on this project, and asked her the following questions:

Q: Why is it important to make seekUT accessible via mobile phones?

A: We all do so much of our web browsing these days from our mobile phones, and this is particularly true of students. We have come to expect easy, anytime access to websites and tools. And now students, as well as all seekUT users, can get basic wage data anytime they want – while they are commuting, vacationing, or lounging by the pool. Anyone can now access the seekUT tool through their smartphones.

Q: How do users access seekUT on their mobile phones?

A: They can access the seekUT site from their phones at

Q: Is the mobile site different from the full seekUT tool?

A. Yes. The mobile version of the tool is more limited in scope than the full version in order to accommodate the smaller screens of smartphones. However, the mobile version still focuses on simple presentations of the key pieces of data from seekUT: earnings and student debt by majors.

Q: Is the seekUT site still accessible by other mobile devices?

A: Absolutely. The seekUT tool can also be accessed from an iPad and other tablet devices. Links to the smartphone-friendly tool and more information on the Mobile BI app that allows for use of seekUT from tablets can be found on the seekUT website.

Q: Will the mobile site be updated/revised from time to time?

A: Of course. As data on the full seekUT site are updated, the smartphone version will be updated, as well, to make sure that everyone has the most up-to-date information accessible to them, regardless of whether they are on a PC, tablet, or browsing from their phone.

The New 2.0 Dashboard Facelift Is Not Just Skin Deep

Facelift dashboard data analytics metrics faceliftIn last month’s blog, Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Better, It Does – UT System Dashboard Gets a Facelift, I let you know that the UT System Dashboard is undergoing a number of updates for its new 2.0 version. The changes, however, are not just for cosmetic reasons – au contraire mes amis. The Metric and Design & Technical workgroups are augmenting and enhancing the tool from the very foundation outward.

The Planning Phase

While no nips and tucks have been made yet, the two teams of analytical surgeons – members of the Metric and the Design & Technical workgroups – have each had their first meeting and are forging ahead with the process of dashboard revitalization.

Metric Workgroup

  • Jessica Shedd, Workgroup Chair / Assistant Director for Research & Reporting, OSI
  • Leslie Carruth / Director for Center of Healthcare Value, Office of Health Affairs
  • Cathy Delgado / Research & Policy Analyst, OSI
  • Meredith Goode / Research & Policy Analyst, Office of Academic Affairs
  • Thomas Guajardo / Assistant Vice Chancellor, Government Relations, Office of the Controller
  • Theresa Johnson / Senior Business Analyst, Office of Technology Commercialization
  • Miriam McKinney / Institutional Research Analyst, OSI

This team’s charge is to identify the most appropriate metrics (not just simple counts) to best describe UT System’s key activities accurately, with an emphasis on whether or not the metric can be benchmarked to peers or benchmarked nationally. These metrics are to feature a clear, straightforward indication of the critical operations of UT System institutions in order to help “tell our story” and measure performance.

Having already met twice in the last month, the Metric Workgroup has lost no time in tackling the questions:

  1. Who is the target audience for the dashboard and each metric?
  2. Should we hone down to fewer metrics with more context?
  3. What are the key metrics that will focus users on actionable information? Which ones can be benchmarked?

The team discussed various metrics: inputs, process metrics, and output metrics. A list of metrics currently displayed on the current UT System Dashboard and in other accountability related reports was distributed. The team followed line by line to determine which metrics may rise to the level of being a key indicator for Dashboard 2.0., and which ones should be changed or enhanced. In addition, a list of various metrics used on other institutional and system dashboards and sites (but not on UT System’s) was scrutinized as part of the metric selection process.

Design & Technical Workgroup

  • Annette Royal, Co-Chair / Assistant Director for Business Intelligence, OSI
  • Paula Bales, Co-Chair / Communications Coordinator, OSI
  • Cindy Chang / Senior Application Developer, OSI
  • Nancy Daniels / Communications Specialist, OSI
  • Daniel Garza / Director, Market Research Program Development, ITL
  • Mehran Poursmaeili / Senior Graphics Designer, External Relations
  • Colter Starr / Systems Analyst, OSI / Milo Peterson, Supervisor of Information Systems, OSI
  • Michael Trevino / Assistant Director for Online Communication, External Relations
  • Jeff White / ETL Specialist, OSI

While analytical substance remains paramount, the dashboard veneer is getting scrutinized, as well, promising an efficient and user friendly tool that is also attractive. To achieve these task components, the Design & Technical workgroup is focused on visualizations, design, and technology.

The first meeting focused mainly on user experience, including preliminary discussions surrounding:

  1. Mockup of launch page
  2. Creation of new portal and “jumping off point”
  3. Subdomains
  4. What technology will be used?
  5. What can do with existing tools for a new look and feel

Follow along as the Metric and Design & Technical teams work through the process of planning, developing, testing, and implementing, as well as the inevitable revising and revamping of Dashboard 2.0. Sign up to receive the Dash It All newsletter at


Just When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Better, It Does – UT System Dashboard Gets a Facelift

UT System DashboardThe UT System Productivity Dashboard is what we call our publicly accessible, external-facing suite of business intelligence tools that includes Web-based applications for extracting and analyzing institutional data that is made available to the public in a way that promotes accountability and transparency. The Dashboard serves a varied audience, including System and campus leadership, legislators, as well as prospective students and their parents. The Dashboard was developed in 2011 as part of Chancellor Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence. After three successful years, however, the interactive system is ready for its next stage of development.

Dashboard 2.0 Revitalization Project Kick-Off

Earlier this month, OSI began the development and design phase of Dashboard 2.0. We kicked off the revitalization process with an all-day meeting on June 5th. The initial group was small to allow for a round-table discussion of what we have and what we need to do to take the UT System Dashboard to the next level. Some of the questions posed to promote discussion included:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of our current Productivity Dashboard?
  • What are the fundamental objectives that will guide us in our design decisions (design principles)?
  • What is the right format/display for Dashboard 2.0?
  • What are the key metrics that will focus users on actionable information?
  • How should the Dashboard be structured and laid out to help users understand the “big picture” and yet still have the ability to find more detail when needed?
  • What capabilities should the Dashboard include to help users understand and interact with the information with ease?
  • Can we do more to integrate SAS BI (business intelligence) and SAS VA (visual analytics) for the purposes of the Dashboard? Do users distinguish between the two?
  • Do we want our BI suite of tools to contain the following major functional components:
    • production/operational reporting,
    • ad hoc querying,
    • pre-set hierarchies for analyzing the data vs. user-defined
    • dashboard(s)?

How We Plan to Make Our Successful Dashboard Even More Successful

The updated Dashboard will expand, enhance, and advance the options already offered, as well as add new features, with a focus on communicating important information through key metrics and data visualizations. These changes will shift the tool from a data-centric (just the facts ma’am) model to one that will offer more analysis and measuring. We will be digging deeper into data and looking for connections and patterns, as well as developing new methodologies for measuring performance, using benchmarking and comparisons to add context.

Tackling the Job

We decided at the kick-off meeting to form two working groups – Metrics and Design & Technical – which will move parallel to each other. We also formed an advisory group to help guide the project as it moves forward.

The Metrics team is tasked with coming up with metrics to identify key indicators that will best describe the functions and activities of UT System’s institutions in clear and understandable formats. It will also consider generating special reports (comic strip style) for predictive/inferential use.

Design and Technical go hand in hand, so the members of this team will dedicate themselves to finding a practical and functional design that is best supported by the available technology.  These groups will meet throughout the summer and early fall.

Don’t Miss an Exciting Moment of the Dashboard’s Revitalization as It Unfolds

I will be posting updates throughout the coming months to document the process of planning, developing, testing, and implementing, as well as the inevitable revising and revamping. We believe these updates will pique the interest of our readers – institutional research (IR) devotees and others.

We invite you to follow our progress on this project: the challenges we face, issues that arise, solutions and compromises reached. It will be both technical and philosophical in nature – what we are doing and why.

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We Value and Welcome Your Input and Suggestions

We really value our readers input and urge you to share your thoughts and suggestions with us on how you think we can develop a better Dashboard. We also welcome your feedback at For real-time updates, check out our Twitter feed @UTFactsOnline.


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