Chazz Robinson, Ben Cecil
August 23, 2023
It’s an age-old question for many students, families, and taxpayers: which college is the best? Different ranking systems have attempted to quantify the value of higher education in a simple roundup list for decades. But we have a new approach, shifting focus to institutions that offer strong return on investment for students with the greatest financial need—providing real economic mobility. Coupled with increasing Congressional interest in ensuring return on investment for all students, there is more demand than ever to create new forms of defining, measuring, and communicating the mission and value of higher education today.
Third Way first introduced the Economic Mobility Index (EMI) in 2022 to approach assessing institutions of higher education. Distinct from traditional rankings and measures of institutional value, we seek to highlight institutions that are fulfilling higher education’s purpose of promoting economic mobility for their students. That means not only serving students from low-income backgrounds well and setting them up for economic success, but also enrolling significant proportions of students with high financial need in the first place. This update recreates the EMI for 2023 using the latest data from the College Scorecard released this spring. Below, we unpack the 2023 data and examine the attributes and characteristics of institutions that fare well on the EMI. For more information about the EMI and previous reports, click here
As with our 2022 report, institutions in California, New York, and Texas—many of which are broad access, public regional, or minority-serving (including Hispanic-serving) institutions—perform strongly on the EMI. It’s no secret that institutions offering low tuition costs and enrolling large percentages of Pell-eligible students are walking the walk when it comes to providing economic mobility to today’s college graduates. Institutions that are affordable and offer a quick return on investment are committed to access and success for low- to moderate-income students who stand to gain the most in economic and social returns from higher education. Within the top 20 institutions on the 2023 EMI, several belong to the same state systems of institutions—namely, the California State University system (eight institutions) and the City University of New York (CUNY) system (five institutions).