Underperformers and Overperformers

Higher Education

May 1, 2023

As in 2020, the 2023 Social Mobility Elevator (SME) rankings heavily favor large public universities in states with a large number of Pell-eligible students and a diverse population. California—and the California State University system in particular—do very well, taking 70% of the top 20 spots. 

Size matters, but it is not the only factor.

Consider the two charts below, which compare where colleges rank relative to the number of undergraduates enrolled and where they rank in the SME rankings.

There are many institutions, given their size, that are doing much less than their peers to drive upward social mobility. The first chart shows the 50 worst underperformers. The underperformers include many institutions that are highly ranked by U.S. News Best Colleges and that have the wealth and prestige to draw students from across the country. And yet they underdeliver on social mobility. Institutional priorities matter.

On the other hand, there are many institutions that are outpunching their weight class by delivering large results despite their size.  Many of these institutions are small, private colleges where a large proportion of their students are people of color. They include several hispanic serving institutions and historically Black colleges and universities. The second chart shows the 50 best overperformers.