Wilkes University gets local bragging rights in new ‘mobility’ college rankings

By Mark Guydish [email protected]

WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University got some bragging rights this week, earning the highest ranking in a new study of how well colleges help students move up the economic ladder compared to their parents.

Brookings fashioned the analysis by looking at how many students move up from one income “quintile,” or fifth, to the next. This system defines “middle class as earning income in the middle (third) quintile.

The review focused on two types of mobility:

1) Students who enter school in the bottom quintile and make it to the top earning quintile as young adults — calling it “Bottom to Top Mobility,” or BTM;

2) students who start in the middle quintile and move up at least one quintile — calling it “Middle Class Mobility,” or MCM.

It was in the second one that Wilkes ranked best, coming in at number 14 nationwide. Misericordia University did well in the same category, ranking 52nd. Rankings for other local schools, in order: Marywood University, 101; King’s College, 111; The University of Scranton, 421; Luzerne County Community College, 796.

Area schools did not fare so well in the Bottom to Top Mobility category, though Wilkes still topped the list with a rank of 175. Misericordia was second in this as well, at 405, and King’s third at 546. The next three were The University of Scranton, 583; LCCC, 1,081; Marywood, 1,392.

Wilkes was quick to send out a media release touting the ranking. “This recognition affirms the value of a Wilkes education in helping our graduates achieve both economic and career success,” President Greg Cant said in the release. “The data from the Brookings Institution also reflects Wilkes University’s historic commitment to educate first-generation college students and provide access to higher education.”

The report notes a caveat. The BTM rankings depend on how many bottom-quintile students enroll and what proportion of them reaches the top earnings quintile, so colleges with low bottom quintile enrollment have a low BTM “even if those who do enroll have high upward mobility.” The converse is true: Colleges with low BTM rankings may have little upward mobility even if they enroll a lot of bottom quintile students.

Some key findings:

• Colleges with high Bottom-to-Top Mobility do not necessarily have high Middle-Class Mobility, and vice-versa.

• Selective four-year colleges (such as Wilkes and others in the area) have the highest rates of Middle-Class Mobility on average.

• Public and private four-year colleges have similar average Middle-Class Mobility rates, but public four-years contribute substantially more to upward mobility overall because they enroll many more students.

• Two-year colleges (such as LCCC) account for a smaller share of total Middle-Class Mobility (31%) than their share of middle-class enrollment (43%). But per-student instructional spending is lower and students in these colleges spend fewer years in college, on average, so the sector nonetheless accounts for a large share of net upward mobility.

• Selective four-year colleges are the workhorses of upward mobility for the middle class, accounting for 34% of middle-class enrollment, 50% of spending on middle-class students, and 43% of Middle-Class Mobility.

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Mark Guydish
About Mark Guydish 220 Articles
Mark Guydish is the seventh of nine children born in West Hazleton. He earned his degree at Penn State, ran a bike shop, bicycled across the country, and worked as a paid EMT before joining the Times Leader in 1995 where he met and married feature writer Mary Therese Biebel. He has covered most beats, done editorial page work, columns, graphics and most recently "test kitchens" with MT. His main beat is education.