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March Madness, College Counselor Style, Part II

Today, I'll be looking at the West bracket in the NCAA March Madness tourney. As I explained in Part I, I'm really not interested in rebounds, foul shots or coverages. As an independent college consultant, I decided to get to know the Sweet Sixteen colleges based on measures of quality that matter in my advising.


So far, I have University of Miami and University of Maryland moving on to the new round from the South bracket. Who will join them?

The first match up is between the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Using statistics from College Navigator and Niche, here's how they stack up:

Both are public, state-supported institutions. Texas A&M is about twice the enrollment of University of Oklahoma (47,000 undergrads versus 21,000). Looking at average net price, Texas A&M comes in at a lower cost than OU, and that difference stays true across all the income levels that College Navigator reports. If you look at "sticker price" OU has an advantage in cost only when you compare the numbers for out of state students.

Retention and Graduation Rates give the advantage to the Aggies as well with a 90% retention rate (compared to OU's 85%) and a 4-year graduation rate of 50% (which is nothing to write home about, really) to OU's 37%.

Both colleges have about the same number of Pell Grant recipients (approximately one-quarter), so it's a toss-up in that category.

Niche's scorecard focuses more on quality of life issues, and assigns letter grades in each of 19 categories. The Sooners of OU earn A+ grades in Athletics and Campus Quality. On the down side, Niche scores OU at C- or below in Parking. The Aggies are strong (A+) in Athletics, Campus Quality, the attractiveness of the "Guys and Girls" on campus and Off Campus Housing, and have no scores lower than a C+. Overall, Texas A&M outscores OU on 10 of the 19 measures.

So it seems pretty clear that Texas A&M emerges as the winner in this competition.

The second pairing in the West puts the University of Oregon Ducks against Duke University. I already have a hunch which way this one's going to go, but to be fair, let's look at the numbers:

Duke is private and located in North Carolina (I am mystified by its placement in the West bracket, but I've already admitted I'm not a sports fan). Its enrollment is about a third of the University of Oregon's, a state-supported school in Eugene. Comparing the cost of a private institution with a state-supported college is always tricky, so I looked at out-of-state costs for the Ducks. No matter how you slice it, Duke is more expensive. The average net price for Oregon is about a third less than Duke. And the sticker price differential is even larger with Duke topping out at above $60,000 a year.

Duke's retention rate is a strong 97%, while Oregon comes in at 87%. Four year graduation rates show a greater disparity with Duke at 87% and Oregon at only 45%. Clear advantage to Duke here. However, Oregon has 24% Pell Grant recipients to Duke's 14%.

On Niche's quality of life measures, Duke pulls an A+ in Academics, Administration, Athletics, attractiveness of their student body and Technology. A C- in Drug Safety is their only low score. For Oregon, there are A+ scores in Athletics and Campus Food, and low grades in Drug Safety and Parking. Overall, Duke outscores Oregon in 10 of the 19 categories.

If price and support for low income families is your main focus, Oregon pulls the win here, but otherwise, it's pretty clearly Duke. I'm going with Duke.

Final prediction for me? Texas A&M and Duke head to the next round.

I'll look at the MidWest and the East brackets in future posts.