By Tawanah Reeves-Ligon
A recent report from Third Way, a Washington-based think tank, has shown that while many famous ‘best’ lists continue to rank ‘top’ colleges and universities based on their prestige and exclusivity, schools that prioritize inclusivity are achieving more desirable graduation outcomes. According to the report, “Out with the Old, In with the New: Rating Higher Ed by Economic Mobility,” Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), or schools whose student populations are at least a quarter Hispanic, have had the greatest success at providing their students with economic mobility.
Thus, the Third Way report asserts schools should not be judged by traditional factors of elitism, but rather through an Economic Mobility Index that measures an institution’s ability to offer students, specifically those from low- to moderate-income backgrounds, a significant return on their educational investment. Third Way’s goals to develop a “high-quality education agenda,” influenced and informed the methodology of this report. They sought to answer the question, “If the primary purpose of postsecondary education is supposed to be to catalyze an increase in economic mobility, which schools are succeeding in that goal?”
It’s interesting to note that the schools ranked as having the best economic mobility outcomes are heavily concentrated in three states — California, Texas and New York — which all happen to allocate significant funding and resources to public higher education. The schools also matriculate larger populations of low- to moderate-income students while offering them quicker returns on their investment than those colleges that focus on enrolling more affluent students.
For example, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which ranks fourth in the Third Way report, enrolls over 60 percent of students who are Pell Grant eligible. Pell Grant is a federal, financial need-based scholarship awarded to undergraduates. Recently, the school also increased its in-house “tuition advantage grant” that covers the costs of tuition and mandatory fees for students with family incomes of up to $125,000.
For Magdalena Hinojosa, senior vice president for strategic enrollment and student affairs at Texas Rio Grande, the report offers the opportunity to look “at our institutions in a different way…bringing to light who we are as institutions.”
According to Hinojosa, “You don’t have to be what is known as a traditional elite institution to really have successful students.”
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) also did well in the ranking on the Third Way report. It states that, “Beyond the overemphasis on institutional selectivity, other factors such as racial, economic and educational discriminatory practices have also systemically undervalued the accomplishments of HBCUs across the U.S.” but “when accounting for the proportion of low- and moderate-income students that colleges enroll and the outcomes those schools produce, HBCUs score much higher on the EMI than traditional rankings reflect.”
Thus, the best route for a return on one’s educational investment, as shown in the report, would be a school that is in a state with significant funding for public higher education as well as an emphasis on enrollment that is inclusive across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The report concludes that, “The reach, willingness and ability to serve low- and moderate-income students will all combine to create the kind of socioeconomic mobility that institutions of higher education were intended to produce.”