Social Mobility Index Ranks Michigan Tech Tops in State

HOUGHTON — President Barack Obama’s call for free community college tuition aims to help level the playing field for low income, first-generation and minority students. Michigan Technological University is already doing that, according to a new kind of ranking released late last year: the Social Mobility Index.

Ranked first among Michigan colleges and universities in the Social Mobility Index and 42nd nationwide, Michigan Tech earned the recognition for its efforts to increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students and families.

“It’s refreshing to be evaluated and ranked on factors that are key to Michigan Tech’s mission,” said Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz. “The SMI recognizes our commitment to broadening access to top-quality higher education for students from all economic backgrounds. And it recognizes the overall value of a Michigan Tech education that is so critical to the success of both graduates and employers in the post-recession economy.”

The SMI differs from most college and university rankings, which depend heavily on peer review.

“Unlike other rankings that rely on reputation surveys, SMI dismisses altogether the use of such data,” says the Social Mobility Index web site. “Factoring in ‘opinions’ from college faculty or administrators about social or economic mobility would only perpetuate the biases and stereotypes collected in such surveys. Our effort is aimed at defining an “economic mobility” index on an
independent, accountable and quantitative basis.”

Other factors often weighted heavily in college rankings are student selectivity — SAT/ACT scores at entrance — class size and faculty salary.

“Student selectivity is irrelevant to measuring social mobility, since SAT/ACT scores correlate with high family income,” says the SMI website. “Variables such as reduced class size and higher faculty salaries (as a supposed measure of ‘prestige’) are relevant, if at all, only in that they drive costs and tuition higher.”

The Social Mobility Index used five variables to rank colleges and universities. They are:
* Tuition
* Economic background of students
* Graduation rate
* Early career salary
* University endowment

Tuition and economic background carried the most weight in the rankings because they are the most critical front-end factors in access to higher education, the SMI website explains. Also, says the SMI, they are the two variables over which policy makers have almost 100 percent control.

The higher the tuition, the lower the SMI score. Endowment is evaluated the same way: the lower the endowment, the higher the SMI. The logic is that the school with the lower endowment is doing its work more efficiently, and the school with the higher endowment has untapped potential to do more, says the SMI website.

“A school can most dramatically move itself upwards in the SMI rankings by lowering its tuition or increasing its percentage of economically disadvantaged students (or both),” say the authors of the SMI.

Data used to develop the SMI is obtained from third-party sources including Payscale, the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) endowment statistics.

The SMI was produced by CollegeNet and PayScale. CollegeNet is a Portland, Ore.-based developer of web technology for higher education and non-profit institutions. PayScale Inc. is a Seattle-based online salary, benefits and compensation information company that maintains one of the largest salary databases in the world.

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