It’s bracket time!
This is most definitely my favorite time of the year. There is nothing in sport quite like the annual college basketball lovefest widely known as March Madness.
For three weeks, my two geeky passions – higher education and basketball – converge to bring us the most unpredictable, entertaining and exciting collection of highly competitive basketball games, 67 in total.
Choosing winners in Mach Madness is never easy. That’s why Warren Buffett is offering $1 million a year for life to any of his employees who can accurately pick all Sweet 16 teams.
In years past, Mr. Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone who could accurately pick an entire bracket. Of course, that’s nearly impossible, or one in 9 quintillion. He didn’t have to pay.
There are numerous strategies for selecting teams, some of which have nothing to do with talent on the hard wood. For example, Inside Higher Ed has a bracket based on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
Here’s our ‘Top Secret’ Method for Turning March Madness into April $cholarships!
There are 68 colleges that go to the Big Dance. For each contest, we calculate the financial aid generosity of each school, add in the 4-year graduation rate – and assign a generosity and efficiency rating. The school that meets the most financial need AND has the best 4-year (as opposed to 6-year) graduation rates and student outcomes wins!
Yes I know that there are sports purists among you who are reading this with eyes askance and brows furrowed, but I’ve actually done quite well picking obscure victors – and more importantly – our students have done really well with their April scholarships (80% of our students get something; most get an average of $100,000 over 4-years).
So, don’t judge!
I mean what qualifications does Joe Lunardi really have as a professional ‘bracketologist’ anyway? Note that no college offers a bracketology degree! And I don’t think you need a crystal ball to predict that Clark Kellogg, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson will be tossing their hands in defeat and tearing up their brackets by Friday afternoon. Happens every year!
Oh, there will be hours of analysis leading up to Thursday’s tip, but can anyone really predict, with confidence, who will win between say, #6 Miami and #11 Loyola-Chicago? Short answer is no chance.
But I can tell you this with 100% confidence: Miami has made a concerted effort to boost it’s financial aid offering. In fact, when new president Julio Frenk arrived at UM in 2016 he declared a commitment to achieving 100% of demonstrated financial need. They’re getting very close, currently at 97%, and I’ve seen the proof with some great financial aid awards coming from UM in the last few years.
My University Generosity formula may not make it on ESPN, but it has produced some real gems over the years. Remember Davidson’s run back in 2009? Sure, they had Steph Curry, but nobody knew who he was back then. And keep an eye on Davidson again. I have them winning it all, over dependable deep dancer Duke. Both meet 100% of financial need and have stellar 4-year graduation rates.
If you’re struggling to figure out which school to choose in the near-equal 8-9 matchup; if you’re frustrated that the Intern in Accounting always wins because she selects the teams with the best colors; if you cannot name a single player on any team, then try my approach. At the very least, it’ll give you a window into which colleges are most likely to meet your financial needs with five-figure scholarships or grants AND graduate your child in 4, not 6 years. Now that’s a return on an investment I can get behind.
So, with that said, here are a some intriguing matchups and teams that I’m highlighting this year:
1. In the first round, Creighton takes on Kansas State in a tough midwest matchup. While their financial aid generosity levels are near equal, Creighton graduates 66% of its students in 4 years, whereas the K-State only sends 28% of its incoming freshman to the podium after 4 years. They’ve got some work to do in Manhattan (Kansas, that is). Take Creighton.
2. Regardless of who wins the First Four matchup between UCLA and St. Bonaventure, I’ve got Florida advancing. Notwithstanding what I heard last night on TBS when they released the brackets and one ‘bracketologist’ said UF loses either way, I’m going with the Gators who have made major strides in recent years to improve their 4 year grad rate. And, they boast a 99% demonstrated need met. Not bad for a state university.
3. Speaking of state universities, perenial dancer and defending champ North Carolina also happens to have a tremendous track record with financial aid and graduation rate. It’s no wonder they’re a top university, whether private or public, and with the Carolina Covenant they offer debt-free packages to low-income students. Virginia is right up there as well, but unfortunately the Cavaliers have Davidson in their bracket.
4. And that leads us back to Davidson. One of the smallest Division I schools with fewer than 1,800 undergraduates, they’re a frequent participant in the Spring Dance. Not only do they meet 100% of demonstrated need and boast a 4 year grad rate of 91% (few schools throughout the country are above 90%), they also offer numerous 5-figure merit scholarships with some approaching the full cost of attendance (that’s over $66,000 per year).
The real point here has nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with how you plan for your child’s college education. Just as some schools may be stronger at basketball, there are schools that have better financial aid policies, merit scholarships, and will do a better job graduating its students in 4 years so that you’re not paying for a 5th or (gasp!) a 6th year.
Too often without proper guidance, we see students select colleges based solely on brand name, performance on a field, or an unexpectedly successful run at the Big Dance, er, the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. And too many people – including parents, neighbors, friends, relatives, the clerk at the grocery store – are complicit in this process – and only herald schools they know because of how they play on the hardwood in March or the gridiron in the fall. If you’re a longtime reader then you know that this is both short-sighted and expensive.
College is a business and athletics are a big part of that business, bringing in millions of dollars to the school. A ticket to the NCAA and subsequent success on the national stage might lead to a surge in applications for years to come, but it says nothing about the type of education, environment, cost and outcome that will suit your child’s needs.
If you want to have fun in March and learn something that can translate to real dollars in May of your child’s senior year (when you’ll have to plunk down a deposit), then you should check out my 11th University Generosity bracket. It includes a breakdown of the financial need met and graduation rates at each of the 68 schools dancing this year.
You can also search our full proprietary college database (with more than 1900 colleges) — and save all the data in your ‘locker’ – inside your member area or on your YCC360 app (on iOS and Android).
To get your premium tools, simply log in here to access the information. Not yet a member, you can click here for more information and to enroll at no risk! Once you do, you’ll get much more than an NCAA Generosity bracket, you’ll get instant access to the proprietary college databases, courses, college cost forecasting tools and live coaching that has helped shave an average of $28,000 PER YEAR from the college bill for more than 1100 families (and counting).
Enjoy the games this month, and may the best, most generous school win!