2023 Social Mobility Elevator Rankings

The complete Social Mobility Elevator (SME) rankings are presented below in a searchable table that can be sorted by column.

In addition to ordinal rankings, we separated the 1,429 colleges into four quartiles, since in any ranking of a group this large, ordinals encourage overestimation of differences. Any university in the top 100 or even in the top quartile likely has a significant impact on social mobility.

As in 2020, the 2023 Social Mobility Elevator 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 size is not the only factor. We created a chart showing that many large institutions that underperform relative to their size and other small ones that overperform. We also created a hypothetical ranking that gave every college the same number of Pell-eligible students and removed the state index. It is an imperfect thought experiment, but a revealing one all the same, because it shows that our top-ranked schools are more than just big. They are also diverse and have strong outcomes for students. 

The graduation rates, earnings, and repayment rates of many of the colleges in the top quartile are typically not as strong as the outcomes of some of the wealthiest and most selective institutions in the nation, but that is an argument for providing greater support for social mobility elevators in the form of both greater financial support to increase affordability and substantial support for evidence-based practices and policies that increase retention and completion.