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Colleges serving Hispanics provide most economic mobility, report shows

Ten public universities in California, New York and Texas are leading the charge in creating a consistent path to the middle class for low- and moderate-income students, a report says.
The campus of Texas A&M.
The campus of Texas A&M.Aaron M. Sprecher / AP file

The universities and colleges providing students with the most opportunities for long-term economic success are Hispanic-serving Institutions in California, New York and Texas, according to an analysis published Thursday.

Third Way, a center-left public policy think tank, assessed the degree of economic mobility higher education institutions provide to low- and moderate-income students.

Experts have usually used the price-to-earnings premium metric, or PEP, to understand how well colleges are serving low-income students. PEP measures the time it takes students to recoup the costs of attending college based off the earnings boost they get by attending the institution.

But this metric alone doesn't account for the overall share or number of low- and moderate-income students a school serves, meaning that highly selective or elite universities — which admit only a handful of low-income students each year — can appear to perform better than they actually do when it comes to incentivizing broader economic mobility across the nation, Michael Itzkowitz, a higher education senior fellow at the Third Way, argues in the analysis.

"Instead of prioritizing reputation and selectivity, we propose a new rating system known as the Economic Mobility Index (EMI) that attempts 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?'" Itzkowitz writes.

The top 10 schools with the highest PEP scores for low-income students, including Stanford and Duke, as well as other private and highly selective universities, enrolled only 15,168 Pell Grant recipients in one year. These are low- and moderate-income students who received a federal grant to cover a portion of tuition costs.

But the top 10 schools with the most economic mobility, based on the EMI metric, enrolled over six times as many Pell Grant recipients (95,619) in a year.

Based on the EMI metric, six state schools in California, two public colleges in New York, and two public universities in Texas are doing a better job of promoting economic mobility and a path to the middle class.

All of these schools also happen to be Hispanic-serving Institutions, or HSIs, meaning that at least a quarter of their student population is Hispanic.

According to the analysis, these institutions have "generous state funding that allows public four-year colleges in these states to be some of the most affordable options," and consequently have "large shares of low-income students enrolled in higher education."

A combination of these factors helped these public colleges and universities provide more opportunities for students who need it compared to other higher education institutions, the analysis found.

Students who graduate from these colleges and universities are also more likely to recoup their educational costs in two years or less, according to the analysis.

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