**Methodology for the Social Mobility Elevator Rankings**

The data used in the Social Mobility Elevator (SME) rankings are drawn mainly from two public sources: the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Survey (IPEDS) and College Scorecard, also administered by the U.S. Department of Education. Data on repayment rates came from the Department of Education’s Accreditor Data File. Legacy preferences came from licensed data representing the responses of colleges and universities to the Common Data Set.

SME scores were calculated for 1,429 IHEs.

The formula uses the number of students enrolled as its base and then multiplies it by a series of factors that can increase or decrease the base number. In some cases, such as the percentage of students who have a Pell Grant, the factor can only reduce the base number or keep it the same, since the maximum percentage of students with Pell Grants is 100%. In some cases, however, the base number can be increased. For example, if 40% of the total principal of student loan debt has been paid off five years after entering repayment, that IHE is awarded a repayment index of 140%. After calculating the SME score for all eligible IHEs (see below for eligibility criteria), the IHEs were ranked from the highest score to the lowest score.

IPEDS provided enrollment data on the number of undergraduates with Pell Grants at an IHE, enrollment by race and ethnicity, the percentage of all undergraduates at an IHE, admit rates, and net price. We used two-year averages for academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21 to calculate the number of students with Pell Grants, the percentage of students with Pell Grants, the percentage of underrepresented minority students, admit rates, and net price. We used net price for the total cohort of undergraduates who received federal financial aid in the form of a grant or a loan.

We used the following components in the formula:

The **number of Pell students** (**PN**) refers to the number of full- and part-time undergraduates enrolled in an IHE who received a Pell Grant. The** percentage of Pell students** (**PP**) was calculated by dividing the number of enrolled full- and part-time students with Pell Grants by the total number of enrolled full- and part-time students. Note that only undergraduates can receive Pell Grants.

College Scorecard data were used for graduation rates for students with Pell Grants. The** Pell grad rate** (**PG**) is based on the percentage of students with Pell Grants who earned a bachelor’s degree from an IHE within eight years of starting at that same IHE, looking at the cohort that enrolled in academic year 2012–13. Because we want to reward institutions that not only provide access to low-income students but also provide the support needed to earn a degree, the Pell grad rate is weighted more heavily in the formula.

The **percentage of underrepresented students of color **(**USoC**) was calculated by dividing the total number of undergraduates who identify as Hispanic (regardless of race); American Indian or Alaska Native; Black or African American; or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander by the total number of undergraduates.

The **state index** (**SI**) is a calculation that starts with the average of 1) the difference between an institution’s share of all students in the state with Pell Grants and its share of all undergraduates in the state and 2) the difference between an institution’s share of all students in the state who identify as underrepresented students of color and its share of all undergraduates in the state. So, if an institution enrolled 10% of a state’s students with Pell Grants and 12% of the state’s URM students while only enrolling 5% of all the state’s undergrads, the average difference would be 6%. That average is added to 100%, for a state index of 106% or 1.06. If an institution enrolled 4% of a state’s students with Pell Grants and 2% of the state’s URM students while enrolling 7% of all the state’s undergrads, the average difference would be -4%, for a state index of 96% or 0.96. To reflect the importance of recognizing the dependence of most IHEs on in-state students for most of their enrollment, we have weighted the state index more heavily.

Repayment data are drawn from the Department of Education’s Accreditor Data File, which calculates the percentage of the balance owed on loans five years after entering repayment relative to the original loan principal. The data for 2018-19 and 2019-20 are pooled. The **repayment index** (**RI**) is calculated in a similar fashion, where the percentage of the total principal paid off is added to 100%. If the total principal has increased so that more is owed than was originally borrowed, that additional amount is subtracted from 100%. So, if 70% of the total principal of all student loans remains five years after entering repayment, the amount paid off (30%) is added to 100% to create a repayment index of 130% or 1.3, which will increase the IHE’s SME score. If 120% of the total principal remains, that 20% is subtracted from 100% for a repayment index of 80% or 0.8, which will decrease the IHE’s SME score.

College Scorecard earnings data, pooled for the cohorts that began college in 2011-12 and 2012-13, were used to create the **earnings premium index** (**EI**), which reflects the percentage of students earning more than the median income of a high school graduate with no postsecondary credentials six years after starting college and therefore enjoying an earnings premium from earning a degree.

IPEDS data on admissions rates and net price were used to calculate the **access and affordability index** (**AAI**). Net price is the cost of attending an IHE minus any grants, discounts, or scholarships received; it is based only on students who received federal financial aid. As a result, the average price paid at some colleges where a large percentage of students receive no grants from the federal government or take out federal student loans is much higher than the reported net price. The access and affordability index is calculated by first dividing an institution’s net price by the average net price for institutions in its sector. (In 2019–20, the average net price was $14,200 at four-year public institutions, $28,100 at private institutions, and $23,200 at for-profit institutions.) If the resulting percentage is less than 100%, the difference is added to the index to produce a number greater than 1; if the resulting percentage is greater than 100%, the difference is subtracted from one. That number is then multiplied by the institution’s admit rate. So, for example, if a private college had a net price of $20,000, that would be 71% of the average net price, or a difference of 29 percentage points. That difference is added to 1 to get a preliminary index of 129%, or 1.29, which is then multiplied by the institution’s admit rate. So, if the college admitted 50% of applicants, its access and affordability index would be 64.5% or 0.645.

The **legacy penalty** (**LP**) applies to institutions that indicate in the Common Data Set (question C7) that they consider alumni relations in their admissions process. IHEs that do so receive a 10% penalty for providing a legacy preference or a 20% penalty if they provide a legacy preference and also admit a third or less of their applicants.

The SME rankings do not include all IHEs. The following were excluded:

- Two-year and less-than-two-year IHEs, which should be evaluated on different metrics than four-year IHEs.
- Private and for-profit IHEs where more than half the students take all of their courses fully online. A state index makes little sense for evaluating an online college, since students are likely to come from multiple states and large online programs can distort state-level data.
- Colleges with fewer than 100 undergraduates. Small changes in enrollment or completion can have misleadingly large impacts on outcomes data.
- Colleges that do not report data used in the methodology.