Economic Mobility Score (EMS)

Economic Mobility Score (EMS)

Our Economic Mobility Score (EMS) considers the economic return averages of lower-income demographics as well as how inclusive a school is towards students from low-income backgrounds. The schools with the best EMS have a higher number of lower-income students who then become well-earning graduates.

The Degreechoices EMS is based on Third Way’s economic mobility index (EMI). Third Way present their EMI as a better metric for policymakers to determine which colleges provide greater opportunity for a wider range of students, and which schools are mostly targeting already advantaged demographics.

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?

Michael Itzkowitz

However, this is not just a naming and shaming exercise. (Although we can wag fingers at Harvard because their Pell Grant recipient percentage is a paltry 16% of the student body.) If you are less affluent and get into an Ivy, you should go. They will generally make sure you needn’t pay more than you can afford, and you’ll discover a world of opportunity post graduation.

For the other 99.9%, the EMS flags which schools successfully graduate relatively well-earning lower-income students – and those schools that do not. We don’t dig into “why” they are successful, but we assume they are better equipped for the types of challenges faced by lower-income students.

We explain below how we arrive at the EMS. Please note that this explanation assumes some familiarity with our methodology.

How our economic mobility score builds on the work of Third Way

The basic concept behind the EMS is to adjust a school’s economic performance by the proportion of Pell recipients to the entire student body. Third Way’s EMI uses what they call a price-to-earnings premium calculation (our “payback”) as the economic performance metric in this equation. They limit their analysis to students coming from households with earnings between 0-$30,000. We follow these same limits but use our economic score instead. Our economic score adjusts payback by student earning numbers to differentiate between schools with similar cost-to-earnings performance.

How we compare value

We determine which university type offers the best investment to students using 2 metrics:

  • Payback compares university cost to student earnings once they enter the workforce.
  • EarningsPlus considers earning performance at each school without taking cost into account.

Payback and EarningsPlus combine into one economic score (ES); the lower the score, the better. We also tailor this specifically to lower-income student demographics with an Economic Mobility Score (EMS).

The economic score calculations are ordered from best to worst and given a percentile based on their position.

For instance:

  • Duke University ranks as position 4 out of 1462, or 99.65%
  • California State – Los Angeles ranks as position 40 out of 1462, or 97.5%

This percentile is then adjusted by the schools’ percentage of Pell students, to arrive at the EMS.

Pell students make up 13% of Duke’s student body. After adjusting the 99.65% economic score percentile by 13%, Duke’s EMS is 12.95, a rank of 931 out of 1462 schools.

Pell students make up 89% of Cal State LA’s student body. After adjusting the 80.21% economic score percentile by 89%, the EMS is 71.39, the top ranked school in the country.

While not shown in the rankings of best schools for social mobility, we also measure graduation rates of lower-income students using the same logic described above. This is documented on our school profile pages. For this, the graduation percentage of students in the 0-30k household income bracket is adjusted by the percentage of Pell recipients in the student body. Performance is expressed in percentages – top 5%, top 50%, etc. – for better comparison.

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