General information on ranking

Name of the ranking (in English) Social Mobility Index (SMI) Ranking
Name of the ranking (in original) Social Mobility Index (SMI) Ranking
Scope of the ranking general ranking
Website of the ranking
First year of publication 2014
Most recent year of publication 2021
Date of last update 2023-04-22
Publication frequency annual
Ranking organization CollegeNET
Methodology website

The Social Mobility Index (SMI) Ranking differs from most other rankings, as it focuses directly on the factors that enable economic mobility and to what extent a college or university educates more economically disadvantaged people (family incomes below the national median) at lower tuition so that they graduate into good paying jobs. The colleges that do the best at this rank higher according to the SMI. The SMI is computed from five variables:

  • published tuition,
  • percent of student body whose families whose incomes are below $48K (slightly below the US median),
  • graduation rate,
  • median salary approximately 5 years after graduation,
  • endowment. 

Unlike other rankings that assign percentages to variables and then sum for a score, the SMI variables are mathematically balanced against live data so that they fall into three weighting tiers: a) tuition and economic disadvantage at the highest tier (access); b) graduation rate and salary at the next, half-weight tier (outcome); and c) the endowment at a half again, or 1/4 weight tier (institutional capability). Each weighting tier is thus twice as “sensitive” as the next in that making realistic changes to the variables at that tier can cause approximately twice as much movement in the rankings.

Enhancing economic mobility means providing access to economically disadvantaged students, graduating them, and moving them into good paying jobs. Each tier constitutes a proxy for one of three concepts: access, outcome, and institutional capability. Considering these tiers in reverse helps explain the intuition behind their weightings. The bigger the endowment a university possesses, the more capability it has to address any problem. Yet because drawdowns on an endowment can be aimed at purposes separate from the problem of economic mobility, endowment primarily serves in the SMI as a tie-breaker. If school A and school B are very close with respect to social mobility policy, yet B has a larger endowment, A is rewarded by the SMI for having applied its resources more efficiently.

A high SMI ranking means that a college is contributing in a responsible way to solving the dangerous problem of declining economic mobility in United States. A school with a low SMI is more likely to be failing, sometimes miserably, at providing real opportunity and advancement for the economically disadvantaged citizens of United States. The SMI should serve as a valuable mirror for policy, an instigator of conversations with institutions that are doing a better job, and a stimulant for policy change.

Unlike the popular rankings periodicals, a percentage weight was not assigned a priori to the five variables in the SMI formula and those values were not added together to obtain a score. Instead, the relative weight of any variable was established by testing how much a realistic change in the value of that variable would move a school within a set of rankings derived from real data. Accordingly, the greatest sensitivity for movement in the SMI rankings derives from lowering sticker tuition or increasing the percentage of students within the student body whose family incomes are less than or equal to $48,000 (the SMI “access” variables). Simply put, 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). While tuition and economic background of the student body are the most sensitive variables in the SMI, three other variables in descending order of sensitivity are also critical. These are: graduation score, early career net salaries, and endowment.

Additional information

  • Main target groups: students and parents, higher education institutions, policy makers, governments and funding agencies
  • Level of comparison: institutional: 1550
  • Major dimensions covered: employability, social mobility
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