Saint Peter’s University Triumphs in March Madness for Graduates, Not Hoops

By Jorge Klor de Alva
March 21, 2024

Despite global turmoil, and in light of the growing skepticism towards higher education in the country, basketball enthusiasts can now divert their focus to March Madness, a welcome respite. Rather than commend the NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament players and their schools, we choose to spotlight a different aspect in our alternative bracket.

Since 2017, we’ve used this occasion when the nation discusses the top college basketball teams to analyze which institutions excel in supporting their graduates post-graduation.

Our Social Mobility Tournament Bracket rates colleges in the tournament based on their success in facilitating upward mobility—a crucial factor in realizing the American Dream.

While NBA draft prospects form a tiny fraction of the players participating in the tournament, their peers face the challenges of transitioning into adulthood after graduation.

Although all colleges aim to equip their students for successful careers, those with a greater number of low- and moderate-income enrollees bear a greater responsibility in ensuring their success. Hence, our bracket applauds colleges fostering economic mobility for all, not just the athletically gifted few.

Click to see a larger image of the bracket and where your college stacks up.

From 2017 to 2022, using the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights dataset, we highlighted the achievement of disadvantaged students from tournament colleges in attaining substantial earnings by their early 30s. However, due to its limitations, we now seek more comprehensive tools to assess college value amid concerns of access, affordability, and post-graduation earnings.

Therefore, since last year, we have adopted Michael Itzkowitz’s Economic Mobility Index (EMI), which ranks 1,320 bachelor’s degree-granting institutions based on their effectiveness in providing economic mobility for students.

The EMI evaluates the return on investment for lower-income students at each school, weighing the costs and earnings premium acquired post-attendance. It also accounts for the proportion of lower- and moderate-income students enrolled to gauge genuine economic mobility.

Most colleges fostering social mobility for low- and middle-income students are typically public institutions. Accordingly, 23 out of the 32 colleges advancing to the second round are public, emphasizing their commitment to accessibility and affordability.

In a deviation from the norm this year, the Sweet Sixteen includes three private universities—Brigham Young, Grand Canyon, and Saint Peter’s. Notably, these institutions ranked above 371 on the EMI and boasted an average EMI of 28.6%, catering to a student population predominantly from low-income backgrounds.

To reach the Elite Eight in social mobility accomplishments, universities had to excel, with most ranked above 165th and serving a substantial percentage of Pell Grant-eligible students. The 2024 Final Four comprises Florida Atlantic Owls, Houston Cougars, Long Beach State Beach, and this year’s champion, St. Peter’s Peacocks, all excelling in economic mobility metrics.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

St. Peter’s emerges as a standout, conquering both the court and the economics arena. With a student body benefiting from financial aid and Pell Grants, coupled with low tuition and soaring earnings premiums, students can repay their education costs swiftly.

Ranking 17th in the index with a 49% EMI, St. Peter’s is a deserving winner of the 2024 Social Mobility Tournament.

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