Low-status, low-cost colleges can be a good deal for low-income students
University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley accepts more than 80 percent of applicants, most of whom come from low-income families. Thanks to low tuition, "it only takes UTRGV graduates a few months longer than Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, and Berkeley graduates to earn back the net price they paid for college," writes Edward Conroy in a Forbes article on colleges that do the most for students with the least.
Also providing good financial returns to lower-income students are schools like California State University Dominguez Hills, City University of New York Brooklyn College, and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, he writes. These upward-mobility schools are low on prestige but high on results.
Forbes' Top 25 Lowest Debt colleges include Harvard, Princeton and Stanford, according to Forbes. But very, very few students -- and even fewer from low-income families -- will get into an elite college with a huge endowment. What counts are schools like Berea College in Kentucky that are both accessible and affordable.
The Washington Monthly ranks colleges by what they contribute to the "social good," writes Kevin Carey in an introduction to the 2022 ratings. "The other rankings elevate colleges for keeping low-income students out. Ours reward them for letting those students in, and then helping them graduate with degrees that lead to good jobs, without unmanageable debt."
Public universities, such as the University of California and California State campuses, do well, Carey writes. So does the City University of New York and State University of New York system.
In the private sector, some of Brigham Young's campuses get high marks too.
Rutgers University’s Newark campus stands out for enrolling an economically diverse undergraduate class that goes on to earn unusually high salaries in the labor market, and—probably not coincidentally—has an unusually high rate of paying back student loans.
Berea College in Kentucky is a consistent standout on our list of best liberal arts colleges, showing that excellence and access for first-generation students can go hand in hand. Lafayette College in Pennsylvania gets a boost over more traditional elite schools by staying particularly attentive to how much it charges lower-income students and how successful its graduates are at managing their debt after earning degrees.
Here are the Monthly's Best Bang for the Buck Colleges.
Carey also highlights Laura Colarusso’s story (“Breaking the Cycle of Privilege”) about how Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts is helping students move into "solid well-earning jobs" and Anne Kim's story (“Train in Vain“) about the federal government’s "antiquated, broken-down" system for certifying job training programs.
"Nowhere is the abuse of poor and working-class students more acute, and the potential to help them get ahead greater, than in vocational certificate programs—the kind provided by community colleges and for-profit trade schools," writes Carey. The Washington Monthly ranks vocational certificate programs here.