Report: Minority-Serving Institutions key source of economic mobility for low-income students

Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) are leading drivers of economic opportunity and mobility for students from low-income households, according to the second annual Economic Mobility Index (EMI), a report introduced by the think tank Third Way. This was the second year in a row the report found that MSIs have a high return on investment for low-income students of color, Inside Higher Ed reports. 

Compared to traditional college rankings, the EMI is unique, as it ranks colleges highly if those schools not only set up students with the greatest financial need for economic success but also enroll a large share of students from low-income, Pell Grant-eligible households. The focus on low-income student enrollment and economic mobility “completely changes the conversation,” Chazz Robinson, an education policy adviser at Third Way, tells Inside Higher Ed

“The No. 1 reason students are going to school is for economic return,” says Robinson. “We can talk about so many other factors…but when a student graduates, they’re going to be wanting to try to get a good job…that matters a great deal not just for the student, but for the economy as a whole.”

Strong MSI presence in top 20%

To determine how well higher education institutions support low-income students, Third Way used data from the Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Released in April, the data included information on institutional characteristics, enrollment, student aid, college costs, and student outcomes from academic year 2020-2021. It also considered information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which releases 5-year estimates on social, economic, demographic, and housing characteristics of the U.S. population.

Then, Third Way analyzed how long it takes for students from households earning $30,000 or less per year to recoup their college costs (known as an institution’s price-to-earnings premium, or PEP, for low-income students) and the percentage of Pell Grant recipients each institution enrolls.

A number of the institutions in the top 20% of the EMI, known as Tier 1 schools, were MSIs, including seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 99 Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), a federal designation for schools where Latine students make up at least 25% of undergraduates. HBCUs performed better on the EMI than on traditional rankings, Inside Higher Ed notes. HSIs, many of which are concentrated in California, Texas, and New York, were more than one-third of the 281 Tier 1 institutions.

Broad-access and/or public regional colleges and universities in these states also appeared among the EMI’s Tier 1 schools, including eight institutions in the California State University system and five schools in the City University of New York system. Both systems provide comprehensive student support programs aimed at increasing four-year graduation rates and reducing barriers to degree attainment, especially for first-time college students.

“Institutions faring well on the EMI go above and beyond to ensure that their students can finance their education sustainably and receive demonstrated return on investment from their college credential,” the report says. “The EMI offers another tool to contextualize the value of higher education and learn from the examples of standout institutions prioritizing positive outcomes and setting their graduates on an upward trajectory.”

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