Interactive Monday: Which colleges are best at income mobility?

Feb 10, 2019
Paying for College, Research, Interactive

From NY Times The Upshot comes an interactive tool, Economic Diversity and Student Outcomes at America’s Colleges and Universities.

As college acceptance letters and financial aid awards roll in over the next few months, this interactive provides information on economic diversity as well as income mobility at thousands of universities across the U.S. This interactive comes from the analysis of tax records and college records for millions of people. 

Details on the study:

The study – by Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner and Mr. Yagan – provides the most comprehensive look at how well or how poorly colleges have built an economically diverse student body. The researchers tracked about 30 million students born between 1980 and 1991, linking anonymized tax returns to attendance records from nearly every college in the country.

I wanted to share two charts using City College of New York as an example:


  • Overall how do City College of New York (CCNY) graduates fare when it comes to the income levels at the age of 34 compared to other selective public colleges? 
  • What percent of CCNY graduates ended up in the top 20% based on income levels at age of 34? In the bottom 20%? 
  • What do you think leads to positive economic outcomes where a college can have almost 4X the number of graduates end up in the top 20% in income distribution vs. bottom 20%? 


The interactive also places colleges on a continuum for a variety of measures including median parent income for the parents of students, share of students from top 1%, share of students from bottom 20% and chance that a low income student can become a wealthy adult.  This mobility index below shows that CCNY ranks #1 on the Overall Mobility Index and shows that a CCNY student had a 51% chance that they would move up two or more quintiles (e.g. from the bottom 20% to the upper 20%). 


One idea on how to use with your students interested in attending college. Have them compare three colleges that they are interested by finding the data provided in this interactive. 

They would start at the top of the home page for this interactive by entering the name of the college that they are interested in: 

Next, they would pull the data about each of the three colleges. I created this spreadsheet to help:


  • What differences do you find in the colleges you have compared for this project? Describe in detail using the data you found.
  • Which of these data points is most important to you. Why?
  • How does an analysis like this change the way you think about colleges you want to apply to or attend? 


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About the Author

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.