Education Reform Now Releases Update to Social Mobility Elevator Rankings

Press Releases

May 23, 2023

May 23, 2023

Contact: Victoria Fosdal

Education Reform Now Releases Update to Social Mobility Elevator Rankings

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 23, 2023) – Today, Education Reform Now released the second edition of its popular Social Mobility Elevator rankings, initially published in 2020. 

The rankings measure the impact that over 1,400 four-year colleges have on improving opportunities for students and on realizing the American Dream. They highlight the four-year colleges and universities that enroll large numbers of underrepresented students and graduate them at high rates. We call these institutions Social Mobility Elevators because they help lift up many students from low-income households and underrepresented students of color by providing them an education that leads to graduation and greater economic security, which we measure through loan repayment and income data.

The Social Mobility Elevator rankings are the first college rankings to: 

  1. include measures for the enrollment of underrepresented students of color, since closing racial and ethnic bachelor’s attainment gaps represents an important aspect of upward social mobility;
  2. take state context into account, since eligibility for Pell-grants and the percentage of students who are African American, Latino, or Native varies by state;
  3. tie affordability to accessibility, in order to avoid over-rewarding wealthy colleges and institutions that may be very affordable for students from low-income household, but enroll very small numbers of those students; and
  4. include a penalty for colleges that provide a legacy preference, since giving the relatives of alumni a birthright advantage in the admissions process is essentially the opposite of driving social mobility.

“We are at an inflection point for how people perceive not just the value of college rankings but of college itself,” said the project’s lead, Education Reform Now’s James Murphy, Deputy Director, Higher Ed Policy. “At the same time that more universities are finally joining the critics of Best College rankings–which mainly measure wealth and prestige–more people are questioning the return on investment of a four-year degree. The truth is, however, that higher education still has transformative power for students, families, communities, and the entire nation.”

The updated Social Mobility Elevator rankings are designed to raise awareness about the institutions that are the real engines of social mobility in their state and the nation and to build support for greater investment in these institutions and the students they enroll. These are not the institutions that always get the most attention or the most financial support from policymakers and philanthropists.

“We think the best colleges in the country are the ones that help lift students to greater prosperity and economic security, not the ones that mainly admit students who already enjoy those benefits,” continued Murphy. “We want more people to be talking about the Social Mobility Elevators, and we want these institutions to get more support from policymakers so that they can lift even more students up.”

The Social Mobility Elevator rankings website includes a range of offerings including a comparison to the US News Best Colleges list; charts of underperformers and overperformers; rankings of small, medium and large institutions; and an interactive map that lets users see how colleges and universities in their state do when it comes to generating social mobility.

You can learn more about Social Mobility Elevators and view this year’s rankings here.