By Jonathan Lewis
on October 19, 2022
As we head into college application season, counselors around the U.S. are helping students generate a list of institutions that would be a good fit. This is no easy task, given the sheer number of factors involved in this process. For example, students and their families may value specific academic or career pathways, location and accessibility, cost and financial aid, sports or other extracurricular activities, institutional culture, or campus feel, to name just a few. When one considers the many community, regional, and national factors layered on top of what a student or family may prioritize individually, generating a college list that is best for everyone can seem downright overwhelming.
At uAspire, we focus our efforts on helping students overcome financial barriers to college enrollment, persistence, and degree attainment, and we’ve seen for many years how the financial implications of a student’s choice can make an enormous difference in whether students will reach those outcomes. And so, rather than rely on college rankings that we consider unhelpful (e.g., U.S. News & World Report) or existing frameworks (e.g., safety-match-reach), we decided to develop our own.
Beginning last fall, uAspire advisors started recommending that advisees add to their college lists at least one institution that we call “financially safer.” Importantly, we never advise students to remove a particular institution from their list; we want to encourage student agency and recognize the various factors at play. We generated these state-level and regional lists of financially safer schools by analyzing a dozen or so publicly-available data points that directly or indirectly relate to college affordability; the data are sourced from the College Scorecard, reported by the colleges and universities themselves.
For example, net price helpfully tells a student how much they are likely to be asked to cover with personal savings, earnings from work, or loans. In our model, we included only net price metrics among dependent students with reported family incomes below $48,000, since that fit our advising population with greater precision. Using similar logic, we also included debt and repayment metrics among Pell students. Several graduation metrics were included because we reasoned that colleges that manage to graduate a higher percentage of students are a better financial bet. We went a step further to include a race equity metric—the difference in graduation rates between students who identified as white and those who did not—which enables us to privilege institutions that are best supporting BIPOC students toward degree attainment.
Table 1, which shows median (or middle) statistics for each data point in our model, offers a comparison between our recommended colleges and those that did not make our list this year. In nearly all cases, students at the recommended institutions are more likely to experience meaningfully better outcomes, from upfront cost to retention and graduation, to loan repayment.
Table 1. Data Explanation for New York Financially Safer Schools
The tables below list our recommended New York colleges for 2022-23. We separated our analyses by institutional type and control, ensuring for example that City University of New York campuses were compared against one another, and not with the State University of New York. Moreover, the handful of private institutions that indicate they will meet students’ full financial need were noted as such.
Table 2. New York Public Financially Safer Bachelor’s Degree Granting Colleges
City University of New York (CUNY)
State University of New York (SUNY)
Table 3. New York Private Financially Safer Bachelor’s Degree Granting Colleges
Recognizing the tremendous variation among the nation’s nearly 4,000 degree-granting institutions, we at uAspire look forward to enhancing this framework each year with additional indicators of success among students of color, as well as first-generation and low-income populations, and expanding the model to cover institutions in more states and regions. This fall, for instance, we added an economic mobility indicator, using a formula developed by the think tank Third Way. We will know whether we have been successful if more of our advisees are applying to, and enrolling at, those colleges that are likelier to prioritize a student’s financial health and produce graduates with better financial outcomes.