see UPDATE at bottom of post

Washington Monthly releases its 2009 college rankings, putting UC Davis at number 10 overall. But perhaps more importantly, UCD ranks number 4 (or maybe it’s 6, I’m not quite getting this right [see UPDATE below]—anyway, it’s higher) on “social mobility”—the actual graduation rate is higher than the predicted rate based on the number of Pell Grants awarded and SAT scores.

The social mobility score is more complicated. We have data that tells us the percentage of a school’s students on Pell Grants, which is a good measure of a school’s commitment to educating lower-income kids. We’d like to know how many of these students graduate, but schools aren’t required to track those figures. Still, because lower-income students at any school are less likely to graduate than wealthier ones, the percentage of Pell Grant recipients is a meaningful indicator in and of itself. If a campus has a large percentage of Pell Grant students—that is to say, if its student body is disproportionately poor—it will tend to diminish the school’s overall graduation rate.

We have a formula that predicts the graduation rate of the average school given its percentage of Pell students and its average SAT score. (Since most schools only provide the twenty-fifth percentile and the seventy-fifth percentile of scores, we took the mean of the two. For schools where a majority of students took the ACT, we converted ACT scores into SAT equivalents.) Schools with graduation rates that are higher than the “average” school with similar stats score better than schools that match, or, worse, undershoot the mark.

Now Aggies, when you cruise around the other parts of the town, put your decal in back.


So, if you look at UC Davis, you see a 4 in the ranking under social mobility. But if you sort by social mobility, it comes in 6. Here, apparently, is the deal: they do two measures for social mobility. (1) What’s the overall percentage of students at the college on Pell grants? Is it more than average given the school’s selectivity? If yes, it goes up in the rankings. (2) On a regression analysis, is the college’s graduation rate higher or lower than projected, considering the proportion of students on Pell grants? If it’s higher, it goes up in the rankings. UCD ranks 4 on measure (2) and 6 if you combine both social mobility measures.

Notice, too, that if you sort the table by social mobility ranking, five of the top ten are UC’s; overall four of the top ten are UC’s.