Today I saw a different college list on the New York Times online. This college list, prepared by The Upshot, a regular column, ranks colleges for accessibility to students from low and middle-income families.
The main determinant of the ranking on this college list, the College Access Index, is based on the share of students who receive Pell grants (which typically go to families making less than $70,000); the graduation rate of those students; and the price that colleges charge both low- and middle-income students. The higher the index, the more accommodating the college is to low and middle-income students. The Times limited the number of schools to those that had a five-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher. That knocked the total number of colleges down to 179, which is pretty low.
The top-ranked schools, not surprising, are in the University of California system. The system, through the Blue and Gold Plan, allows students who come from families earning less than $80,000 to attend tuition free. But it was interesting to see that the most selective campuses in the system did not rank the highest on this college list. In fact, the University of California-Irvine (UC-Irvine), located in Orange County, one of the most politically conservative places in America, ranks first. UC-Irvine’s acceptance rate (most recently 38 percent) is easily more than double the rates for Berkeley or UCLA.
I looked further down this college list and saw many of the usual value suspects. The University of Florida, ranked sixth, charges a ridiculously low (by today’s standards) rate of in-state tuition of $6,310 while the state has its own financial aid programs that could reduce costs further. The University of Georgia, which ranks 25th, benefits from students who receive generous merit awards through the Hope and Zell Miller Scholarship programs as well as need-based aid. Ivy League schools rank in the top 55, though some lesser-known names rank higher.
Among the 67 schools on this college list that had a College Access Index of 1.0 or higher, there were some names worth investigating further. These colleges are not household names, but very good performers that apparently try to help students from low and middle-income families to complete their degrees, and hopefully go on to further education as well as a rewarding life’s work. These schools included:
Other stars on this list that might not be top of mind with college-bound families included St. Mary’s College of Maryland (a public honors college), College of St. Benedict (MN), Allegheny College (PA), Clark University (MA), Hope College (MI) and St. Olaf College (MN). The lowest four-year graduation rate in this bunch? Hope College, at 70 percent. The lowest acceptance rate? St. Olaf, at just over 51 percent.
This college list showed that high school seniors should look beyond famous names to find a school that will successfully guide them to a future. One can only hope that this list will grow larger, and use a four-year graduation rate.
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