Montana Tech at the top of CollegeNET and PayScale's Social Mobility (SMI) for US Higher Education

Montana Tech at the top of CollegeNET and PayScale's Social Mobility (SMI) for US Higher Education


New Data-Driven Ranking System Compares Higher Education Institutions According to How Efficiently They Advance Low-Income Students through Graduation Into Good Careers

CollegeNET, Inc., a leading provider of Web-based on-demand technologies for higher education, and PayScale, Inc, the leader in cloud compensation data and software, today introduced the Social Mobility Index (SMI), a new data-driven ranking system that compares the extent to which US colleges and universities efficiently graduate students from low-income economic backgrounds into promising careers (

The goal of the SMI is to help refocus our higher education system away from the empty chasing of “prestige” and toward providing economic opportunity more broadly for our citizens.

“In its best form, US education has served as an open gateway to economic opportunity for dedicated students. But over the past 30 years, as the prospect of college has turned into an expensive gamble for ordinary citizens, we have slipped from #3 in college graduation rate to #13 among developed nations. That doesn’t cut it in an age where economic competitiveness depends upon skill development” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET. “Fortunately, some colleges are getting it right; the SMI exists to highlight their contribution and example.”

The Rankings

The SMI ranks 539 colleges and universities.

The top 10 SMI schools – those that are making the largest contribution to economic mobility in the United States – are:

1. Montana Tech of the University of Montana
2. Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey
3. Florida A&M University
4. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
5. California State University-Northridge
6. University of California-Davis
7. Florida International University
8. University of California-Riverside
9. University of California-Berkeley
10. California State University-Stanislaus

“At Montana Tech, we call this the 'Ordinary to Extraordinary' story,” notes Donald Blackketter, Chancellor at Montana Tech. “We have a long tradition of graduating students, who come from ordinary circumstances and, in turn, use their Montana Tech education and personal commitment to make extraordinary contributions to the well-being of the nation and world.”

There are four key highlights from the SMI rankings:

  • Many "below-the-radar" schools (like Montana Tech at #1 and Rowan University at #2) are quietly helping to solve the problem of economic mobility in the United States.
  • Several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (like Florida A&M #3 and North Carolina A&T at #12) are also making a big statement on behalf of social mobility.
  • But many “prestigious” institutions that are more highly ranked in traditional periodicals do not necessarily fare as well when focusing on the important issue of economic mobility.
  • That said, the SMI abounds with interesting exceptions. Two well-known names from the University of California system – UCLA at #15 and Berkeley at #9 – prove that institutional fame and wealth need not operate as distractions from admitting, educating and graduating capable people from all economic backgrounds.

The Methodology

The SMI is computed from five variables: published tuition; percentage of student body whose families are below the US median income; graduation rate; reported salary after graduation (0-5 year range); and endowment.

Unlike other rankings that assign percentages to variables and then sum for a score, the SMI variables are mathematically balanced against live data so that they fall into three weighting tiers: tuition and economic disadvantage at the highest tier (access); graduation rate and early career salary at the next, half-weight tier (outcome); and the endowment at a half again, or 1/4 weight tier (institutional capability).

Each weighting tier is thus twice as "sensitive" as the next in that making realistic changes to the variables in that tier can cause approximately twice as much movement in the rankings as changes to the next tier's variables.

“The SMI rankings clearly show that colleges and universities can be part of improving both economic opportunity and social stability in our country,” says Lydia Frank, Editorial Director at PayScale. “A school can most dramatically move itself upward in the SMI rankings by lowering its tuition or increasing its percentage of economically disadvantaged students – or both.”

An in-depth Web site devoted to the SMI rankings and methodology can be found at

About CollegeNET, Inc. CollegeNET, Inc. builds on-demand SaaS technologies that help institutions improve operational efficiency, enhance communication with constituents and save money. The company's systems are used by 1,300 institutions worldwide for event and academic scheduling, prospect and admissions management, Web-based tuition processing, instructor and course evaluation, and alumni development. Additionally, CollegeNET operates, a fast-growing social network through which students create topics, write about them, and vote to determine who will win scholarships. has awarded more than $1.6 million in scholarships to date. The company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

About PayScale
Creator of the largest database of individual compensation profiles in the world containing more than 40 million salary profiles, PayScale, Inc. provides an immediate and precise snapshot of current market salaries to employees and employers through its online tools and software. PayScale’s products are powered by innovative algorithms that dynamically acquire, analyze and aggregate compensation information for millions of individuals in real-time. Publisher of the College ROI Report and the College Salary Report, PayScale is a trusted source of college alumni career outcome data. PayScale’s cloud compensation software is used by more than 3,000 business customers including Cummins, Warby Parker, Zendesk, Clemson University and Covenant Dove