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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

In This March Madness Bracket, Schools Win For Graduating Poor Students With Little Debt


There's one March Madness bracket that pits college against college off the hard court. This tournament awards victories based on a school’s ability to graduate low-income students without piles of loans.

It’s called “Nothin’but Debt,” a creation of ProPublica, an investigative newsroom based in New York. Reporter Annie Waldman has the post-game analysis.

  Interview Highlights: Annie Waldman…

…on what this bracket’s all about: “We didn’t want to focus necessarily on the teams that everybody’s thinking about, they’re thinking about who’s going to be the champion, right? They’re thinking about, you know, nothing but net. We wanted to think about nothing but debt. Which team actually helps low-income students with the best shot at graduation, the best shot at earnings down the road? We didn’t want to focus just on the game, we wanted to focus on the longer game which is life.”

…on that factors that determine success in this bracket: “We looked at the percentage of undergraduates that come from low-income households, and the average financial support that’s given to those students. Or the tuition discount that these students receive, or their post-graduation debt. And also the percentage of students who are unable to repay loans after graduation.”

…on who the national champion was and why: “Princeton. Princeton has an endowment of $21 billion, so it’s a university that really can spend a little extra cash on low-income students and help them succeed. Not only do low-income students pay $3,630 on average in order to go to school, which is even less than the University of California Davis which is a public university, the actual amount that low-income families pay for college is a 94% discount. And they’re really able to do this because of their incredible endowment.”

…on why SMU fell in round 1: “They were up against University of Southern California. And so what they really lost on are measures like the percentage of Pell grantees or low-income students. Southern Methodist only has 16% Pell grantees, where if you look at University of Southern California it’s 23%. And then if you look at the median debt level, they do win out over University of Southern California but their discount isn’t as great, and also their repayment rate, you know, how well students are able to pay off their loans, wasn’t as great either.”

Credit ProPublica /
The full 'Nothin but Debt' bracket.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.