A common method of characterizing undergraduate students is to separate students into “traditional” and “nontraditional” categories. In a 1996 NCES study, a broad definition of nontraditional was used that included seven characteristics: delaying enrollment; attending part time; being financially independent; having dependents other than a spouse; working full time while enrolled; having no high school diploma; and being a single parent. Nontraditional status was defined on a continuum based on the number of these characteristics. The nontraditional status index ranges from minimally nontraditional (one characteristic) to moderately nontraditional (two or three characteristics) to highly nontraditional (four or more characteristics) (Horn 1996). The same characteristics that define a nontraditional student have also been termed risk characteristics because they have been shown to be negatively associated with persistence and attainment (Horn 1996; Horn and Premo 1995).
This report uses the index to examine the percentage of each type of borrower group with different numbers of risk characteristics and applies the same continuum used to define nontraditional to characterize the degree of risk from minimal to high. Because research has shown that students who do not attain degrees are more likely to default, the analysis focuses on those with high risk characteristics. Key findings include:
- With the exception of students at private not-for-profit 4-year institutions, high borrowers most often had moderate risk (public 4-year institutions, 39 percent; and private for-profit institutions, 52 percent) or moderate and high risk (public 2-year institutions, 46 and 33 percent) of not persisting. High borrowers at private not-for-profit 4-year institutions were more likely to have had zero risk characteristics (42 percent).
- The proportion of high borrowers with a high risk for not persisting varied by institution type. At both private not-for-profit 4-year institutions and public 4-year institutions, high borrowers were more likely to have had high risk than medium and low borrowers. At private for-profit institutions, however, a lower percentage of high borrowers (28 percent) had high risk than medium borrowers (41 percent).
Stafford Maximum Borrowers
- The highest proportion of Stafford maximum borrowers (total, subsidized, and unsubsidized) at private not-for-profit 4-year institutions and public 4-year institutions had zero risk characteristics (were traditional students). At public 2-year institutions, they primarily had moderate risk (unsubsidized) or moderate and high risk (subsidized). Those at private for-profit institutions primarily had moderate risk.
- In all four institution types, Stafford total maximum and unsubsidized maximum borrowers were less likely to have had high risk for not persisting than their less-than-maximum borrower and nonborrower counterparts.