March Madness Women’s Tournament: UC-Irvine leads in boosting students’ social mobility

By Jorge Klor de Alva
March 28, 2024

This year’s NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball tournament continues to deliver thrilling performances. In a standout first-round display, Caitlin Clark of Iowa showcased her WNBA potential with 27 points and 10 assists, guiding the Hawkeyes to victory against Holy Cross. Meanwhile, Kiki Iriafen’s remarkable 41-point performance led Stanford to an overtime win over Iowa State. The competition is intense, making every game a must-watch for fans.

The focus extends beyond the court to the economic opportunities offered by participating schools. For the second consecutive year, we’ve reimagined the tournament with a different bracket, highlighting schools’ contributions to students’ upward mobility.

Our custom Economic Mobility Index (EMI), developed by Michael Itzkowitz, uses data from the U.S. Department of Education and the Census Bureau to determine the cost of a four-year degree, return on investment for low-income students, and the earnings premium a graduate enjoys. This analysis helps identify how quickly students can repay their education costs, emphasizing the impact of each school on underresourced students’ future.

Factors such as enrollment of low- to moderate-income students and the return on investment contribute to each school’s placement on the Social Mobility Tournament bracket. Highlighting schools that excel in social mobility, our bracket acknowledges institutions that prioritize economic empowerment.

The Sweet Sixteen in our Social Mobility Tournament features public universities, the key educators of low- and middle-income students. Despite some early exits in the NCAA tournament, these institutions stand out for their commitment to student success. With nearly 293,000 undergraduates, these colleges have an average of 35.6% Pell Grant recipients, enabling students to pay off their education in around 2.5 years, thanks to an earnings premium of approximately $19,400 over high school graduates.

In the realm of social mobility, our Sweet Sixteen universities rank impressively between 51 and 536 in the EMI, surpassing many other colleges that require a decade or more to repay educational costs. These institutions provide substantial benefits, offering a more lucrative path for graduates beyond secondary education.

The Elite Eight institutions demonstrate a higher level of success, with rankings ranging from 51 to 216 on the EMI. Serving around 141,400 students, these colleges prioritize Pell Grant recipients, with an average earnings premium of $18,000 leading to a swift repayment period of just over two years.

The Final Four contenders, including UNLV’s Lady Rebels and Eastern Washington Eagles, showcase remarkable performance both on and off the court. Despite their early exits in the NCAA tournament, these institutions rank among the top in terms of social mobility impact, with EMI scores indicating their dedication to student success.

Marshall University’s women’s team, after a successful season and conference championship, showcases the university’s commitment to student welfare. Despite an early NCAA tournament exit, Marshall’s EMI ranking of 110 and significant percentage of Pell Grant recipients highlight their dedication to supporting lower-income students, ensuring a speedy payback period and sustainable earnings for graduates.

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The University of California-Irvine Anteaters emerge as the 2024 Social Mobility Tournament champions, emphasizing the institution’s commitment to student success. With a rapid repayment period and significant earnings premium, UC-Irvine’s exemplary EMI ranking reflects their impact on students’ future economic security and mobility.

As we anticipate the NCAA Elite Eight and Final Four matchups, we celebrate the achievements of colleges that prioritize social mobility, empowering students to achieve long-term economic stability and success.

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