Five Matchups Worth Watching in March Madness (…and We Aren’t Talking Basketball)

by: Konrad Mugglestone


March Madness hype is at a fever pitch. 68 teams will converge in cities across the United States to vie for the NCAA National Championship. In this period of intense school pride, where metaphorical Davids get to face (and sometimes slay) Goliaths, it can be easy to forget the real head-to-head matchups that most students have to consider when selecting their institutions—the comparisons between different institutions’ costs, and their outcomes. Below, I highlight five real March Madness matchups by enrollment, cost, aid, debt, and graduation rates (150% regular time). These matchups are all between relatively large statewide public institutions of higher education.


  1. #8 Missouri vs. #9 Florida State University

Everyone loves an even matchup, and these institutions represent two major conference southern schools. While Florida State University (FSU) is the larger school, it offers a lower total price, which Missouri is forced to match with more institutional aid. However, FSU wins this matchup with their greater low-income Pell enrollment, and higher completion rates. Advantage: FSU.


  1. #8 Virginia Tech vs. #9 University of Alabama

Another close clash between two major public institutions, this one also pits an Atlantic Coast Conference against a Southeastern Conference challenger. Alabama has a higher sticker price and net price, but offers big institutional aid when it shows up to play. Unfortunately, where it falls short is in its graduation rates, where Virginia Tech has the clear edge. Advantage: Virginia Tech.


  1. #6 University of Houston vs. #11 San Diego State University

This cross-country matchup pits two similarly sized institutions against each other. While prices are similar, Houston’s graduates end up struggling in the postseason with more debt. This is not a good sign. While Houston does have high Pell Enrollment, the dramatically higher graduation rates at San Diego State makes this game prime for an upset. Advantage: SDSU.



  1. #5 Clemson vs. #12 New Mexico State

This matchup will be one of the more heartbreaking. New Mexico State offers dramatically lower costs than its South Carolina-based opponent, which is great for low-income access. The problem for New Mexico State falls in the back end where Clemson shines with high graduation rates, and high Pell graduation rates. The voters got it right on this one. Advantage: Clemson.


  1. #7 Rhode Island vs. #10 Oklahoma

Oklahoma is a perennial athletic powerhouse, while Rhode Island had an 18-year hiatus from the Big Dance from 1999 to 2017. Still, this matchup is arguably one of the closest. Both schools offer similar prices, and similar financial aid. Rhode Island falls slightly behind on debt at graduation but makes up for it with higher Pell enrollment. This matchup will be a nail biter, but this analyst favors the upset due to Oklahoma’s slightly higher graduation rates and marginally lower costs. Advantage: Oklahoma.