There’s a relatively new ranking list that families may want to consult during this college search season, already underway. The Social Mobility Index, published by CollegeNet, ranks colleges according to their accessibility and affordability, especially for low-income students, as well as their graduation rates, early career salaries of graduates and endowments.
As a result, the highest rated colleges tend to be public institutions, unlike the more conventional college rankings where Ivy League and other prestigious private schools top the list. Princeton University, for example, is ranked the No. 1 national university on the U.S. News World Report college list but No. 769 on the Social Mobility Index.
The ranking, published for the second year, is described at its website as a “way to stimulate change in higher education … to recast the competition for prestige around factors that improve access, affordability, and graduation, and that advance economic mobility for students.”
According to the College Board, the annual tuition at a four-year private college currently averages just over $31,000 for a four-year private institution compared to around $9,000 at a four-year public institution for in-state residents. Total costs, which include room and board, are at least $10,000 more for both.
(Related on ThinkAdvisor: Top 13 Colleges Whose Grads Earn the Most: 2015)
The Social Mobility Index assigns tuition and the economic background of students double the rating of the graduation rate and early career salaries and four times the rating of endowments. Still the graduation rate weighting in the Social Mobility Index has twice the weighting it has in the U.S. News & World Report rating system.
Following are the top 10 schools, as ranked by the Social Mobility Index. All are state or city-funded institutions.
10. University of California – Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
% of low-income: 33.6%
Graduation rate: 80.6%
Median early career salary (0-5 years after graduation): $49,400
Originally a small teachers college, UC Santa Barbara now has 23,000 students – 20,000 of them undergraduates — and six Nobel Laureate professors. It offers 200 majors, degrees and credentials through five schools and a graduate division on a campus that is among the most beautiful, sitting at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
The campus is home to 11 national centers and institutes, eight of which are sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and it also includes the interdisciplinary Carsey-Wolf Center, where students and scholars study everything from silent films to the latest in digital media and satellite communications, within the context of a liberal arts and sciences curriculum.
9. North Carolina A & T
Greensboro, North Carolina
% of low-income: 42.6%
Graduation rate: 42.8%
Median early career salary: $50,100
North Carolina A&T is an agricultural and technical land-grant university founded in 1890 which has the largest agricultural school among the nation’s more than 100 historically black colleges.
Its curriculum includes technology, business, engineering and the arts. In 2008, the school was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) grant for biomedical engineering and nano-bio applications research.
8. University of California – Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California
% of low-income: 41.8%
Graduation rate: 72.6%
Median early career salary: $48,400
UC Santa Cruz is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. With more than15,000 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students, the school has a reputation for being among the most liberal UC campuses, all of which have recently adopted a $15 minimum wage for staff.
One example: UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Creative Ecologies, which focuses on the intersection of visual culture, politics, and the environment and recently hosted a series of free public talks exploring the meaning of climate justice for communities ranging from California to the Ecuadorian Amazon.
7. Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
% of low-income: 65.2%
Graduation rate: 45.5%
Median early career salary: $45,400
WSSU was founded in 1892 and in 1925 became the first African-American institution in the nation to grant elementary education teaching degrees. Building on its core strengths in education and the health sciences, the university hasexpanded its undergraduate and graduate programs in more than 40 major.
Part of the University of North Carolina public university system, WSSU has about 6,000 students,graduates about one-third of the nurses in North Carolina and includes the country’s first Bachelor of Science degree program dedicated to Motorsports management.