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Financially Safer Schools

Equipping students with data-rich affordability information

Financially Safer Schools

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 in fall 2022, 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 which combines data collected by different federal agencies about the colleges and universities.

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 net price metrics among students with reported family incomes below $75,000, 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. Finally, we retained an economic mobility indicator, using a formula developed by the think tank Third Way, because it is central to uAspire’s mission.

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

Our recommended New York colleges for 2023-24 are listed below. 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.

City University of New York (CUNY)        

  • Bernard M Baruch College        
  • Brooklyn College        
  • CUNY City College        
  • Hunter College        
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice        
  • Lehman College    

State University of New York (SUNY)        

  • Binghamton University    
  • Farmingdale State College        
  • Fashion Institute of Technology        
  • State University of New York at New Paltz
  • SUNY College at Old Westbury    
  • State University of New York at Oswego    
  • Stony Brook University
  • SUNY at Albany
  • SUNY Buffalo State University
  • University at Buffalo    
  • SUNY College at Plattsburgh
  • SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  • SUNY Oneonta
  • SUNY Polytechnic Institute

New York Private Financially Safer Bachelor’s Degree Granting Colleges

  • Bard College
  • Barnard College*
  • Canisius College
  • Colgate University*
  • Columbia University*
  • Cornell University*
  • D'Youville University
  • Daemen University
  • Hamilton College*
  • Hilbert College
  • Hobart William Smith Colleges
  • Manhattanville College
  • Mercy College
  • Niagara University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Russell Sage College
  • Skidmore College*
  • St Lawrence University
  • St. Francis College
  • St. Joseph’s University - New York
  • Syracuse University
  • The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art
  • Union College*
  • University of Rochester*
  • Vassar College*
  • Wells College

This year, for the first time, we generated recommendations among the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). We made this decision to expand beyond state and regional lists because HBCUs and HSIs may be the first or only choice for some students of color, who are not interested in attending a predominantly white institution (PWI). Moreover, there is strong evidence to suggest that graduates of HBCUs in particular are upwardly mobile, moving from the bottom 40 percent of the income ladder to the top 60 percent at higher rates than PWIs as a group.

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. 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.

*Meets students’ full financial need which means they guarantee to provide the full amount of financial aid they determine a student needs.

Financially Safer Resources