Chart: Social Mobility

Chart: Social Mobility

Upward mobility top and bottom 10

This week’s chart comes from rankings compiled by the Social Mobility Index (SMI) and put into this handy format by Rick Newman in an article for Yahoo Finance.

I appreciate what SMI has done here. I’ve seen tons of rankings put out by the various sources of colleges on all sorts of merits, including all around best colleges, top party schools and stone cold sober schools, best colleges for nature lovers, etc, etc. We must typically take these with a grain of salt because “best” is a subjective credential and the criterion can be misleading for students of other opinions. They also tend to not place all that much emphasis on the sorts of practical financial consequences their students must face once in the workaday world.

However, this ranking system, which incorporates metrics of former students’ financial health, is geared to “highlight the schools that do the best job of helping disadvantaged students graduate with the ability to start a career free of crushing levels of debt.” We’re getting warmer…

Five criteria sort and filter the schools in question, namely: salaries of grads now in the workforce, tuition, percentage of the student body from low income households, graduation rate, and the size of each school’s endowment. While I would put limited value in a couple of those this seems to be a great start toward ranking colleges on an affordology premise and look forward to when the listings include more than the current 539 schools which are but a small sample of the thousands a student must consider. However, this is a great start and a good shortcut for the affordability-minded student when daunted by the task of sorting through all the schools vying for one’s attention.

Incidentally, when looking at the top 10 schools versus the bottom 10 schools in this chart one will also see a trend beyond what the SMI meant to initially capture. Note not only the relatively inexpensive cost of the top schools, but also their emphasis. The top 10 schools tend to specialize in practical skills. Several of these top colleges feature in their name the words tech, A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical), and polytechnical. Rowan, a school I was unfamiliar with, specializes in the medical sciences and UC Berkeley is most famous for its engineering and business programs. At the bottom of the list, on the other hand, we have a larger stress on the arts with two schools having culinary and music in their name and some of the others specializing in the like. Middlebury, for example, is best known for its language programs and Oberlin College‘s website prominently touts its concert series and collection of “230+ Steinway grand pianos and 1500 instruments of highest quality”.

The quick affordology lesson: If you want to enjoy any financial benefit from your education and specialize in the arts or “soft sciences” you just can’t probably afford to pay to attend an exclusive school’s prices. On the other hand if you happen to go to a college that stresses the practical without stressing your wallet you have a better than average chance at good returns for your time and money. Here’s a great place to start your research toward this end.