Elite colleges a better bet for low-income minority students, ranking finds
- A charter school network in the Los Angeles area ranked around 2,500 colleges based on how well they graduate minority students. Brown University, Pomona College, Harvard University, the University of Notre Dame and Skidmore College make up the top five, all of which have six-year graduation rates for African Americans and Latinos of 95% or greater.
- The group, called the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, found more selective four-year institutions had higher graduation rates for minority students, followed by other four-year institutions and community colleges, the Los Angeles Times reported.
- There was a wide variance among similar institutions, suggesting minority students could benefit from information about individual colleges' graduation rates. The highest-ranking colleges on the list tend to offer a mix of peer mentoring, transition programs, financial aid and counseling.
Though some selective colleges are more likely to graduate minority students — potentially leading to a greater payoff for their investment — many of these students perceive these institutions' hefty price tags as a barrier to attendance.
However, the "real cost" of college is usually much lower for low-income and middle-class students than the sticker price suggests. A New York Times analysis of 31 private and one public college found that low-income students with families making $50,000 or less paid on average $6,000 annually.
Yet students may be wary of taking on debt to cover those remaining costs, even if an elite school may be a better option. Students who attend selective colleges are less likely to have debt than those who attend "expensive lower-tier colleges," wrote higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo for The Washington Post.
Last year, Forbes' Best Value Ranking of colleges, which considers access for low-income students, found some similar results to the charter school's list. The University of California System campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley topped the list at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Several selective private institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and Princeton were also in the top 10.
Students who attended for-profit universities often graduate at lower rates and earn less. One study found they chalked up an average of $22,000 in debt, regardless of whether they earned a degree.
Though data suggest community college students are less likely to complete a four-year degree within six years, a recent report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation shows that if they transfer into selective four-year universities they are as likely to succeed as other students. However, community college transfers comprise only about 15% of the newly enrolled students at four-year colleges nationwide and only 5% at the most prestigious.
Beyond the Alliance list, there are several other tools students can use to determine college costs, such as the federal net price calculator and the website MyinTuition, which was developed to help families determine how affordable a college is for them.