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Manhattan College: America’s Most Transformative School

Many colleges help their students succeed. But the best universities are the ones that truly transform the economic trajectories of their graduates.

One such standout school is a small private college that goes unnoticed in the Bronx.

Manhattan College, a Catholic school that combines a liberal arts background with popular engineering and business programs, ranked No. 1 in Money’s annual ranking of America’s Most Transformative Colleges, thanks to its proven ability to change the lives of your students.

Money Rankings use a unique “value-added” analysis to identify which colleges do an exceptional job of helping students perform better than they would if they enrolled elsewhere. Students from wealthier backgrounds or those with high grades and test scores are likely to be successful; The colleges on our transformative list help students succeed regardless of their background, and they do so at a higher rate than schools with similar student bodies. Manhattan College’s graduation rate, for example, is 37% higher than expected for schools enrolling students from the same academic and socioeconomic background.

More than six in 10 Manhattan College graduates who come from low-income backgrounds reach the top income quintile by age 30, according to data from Opportunity Insights, a research and policy institute based at Harvard University.

“We tend to attract a student with determination and a focus on their careers that comes with them from day one,” says William Bisset, vice president of enrollment management at Manhattan College.

Manhattan College alumni report median salaries of $62,600 three years after graduation, according to That compares to $56,400 at Fordham, $60,800 at NYU and $69,200 at Columbia. Those salaries help push graduates into middle-class lifestyles.

Other transformational colleges on Money’s list include: Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, California; MCPHS University in Boston, Massachusetts; and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Check the full ranking here.

‘A grassroots commitment’

Joshua Cuppek/Courtesy of Manhattan College

What is the key to the success of Manhattan College? Deeply individualized attention to each student, in concert with faculty and staff. Manhattan College engages students early in their academic lives and stays engaged through graduation.

“There really is a grassroots engagement with students before they start their studies here,” says Bisset.

Support begins with summer bridge programs, designed to help underserved, economically disadvantaged, or first-generation students entering college. Students in these programs come and take courses during the summer to ease the transition from high school to college. The program is free to qualifying students.

During the summer, students get additional academic resources, such as personal tutoring and more focused advising. In addition, students receive workshops on time management, financial education, and how to find internships. Students even take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment to better assess their individual needs.

“It’s not just about academics, we’re educating the whole person and we take that very seriously,” says Marisa Passafiume, associate vice president for academic success.

Once the school year begins, students are guided through the college process with the help of career advisors, peer mentors, and alumni. They help students with everything from scheduling classes and managing loans to preparing for internships and choosing a career path. The school’s Center for Academic Success offers supplemental academic support to any student who needs it. The center trains graduate students and seniors to mentor their peers.

These resources were especially helpful to Angely Morillo, who is a junior at Manhattan College, in navigating her academic experience.

“As a first-generation college student, you don’t really know how these things work,” says the 20-year-old finance student.

First-generation students and others who need additional support — for example, students whose primary language spoken at home is not English — have access to additional advisors who address specific student needs, Bisset says.

An early warning system

Joshua Cuppek/Courtesy of Manhattan College

When students are struggling, Manhattan College steps in as quickly as possible; it doesn’t wait for students to come for help or fail a course. The university has an early warning system where students get extra support when they need it.

“The students laugh… they make fun of me because I will find you,” jokes Passafiume. “We care enough to come looking for you and meet you wherever you are,” he says.

The alert system can go into effect for many reasons, says Passafiume. A student may be behind on their homework or have missed one or more classes. A faculty member may have had a conversation with a student that raised concern. Teachers can also send referrals for a student they think she may need additional support. The school sends emails to the faculty in the first and fourth week of class to register.

The first month is the school’s “early warning” period, according to Passafiume. “If we catch a problem during the first four weeks of the semester, the chances of a student bouncing back and continuing to be successful are much greater than if we wait until after those first four weeks,” she says.

Since many students work during the day, the Tutoring center stays open until 8 pm. Students also have access to online tutorials..

“We had a student who was being instructed while on the bus via her cell phone,” says Passafiume.

A focus on racing

Chris Taggart/Courtesy of Manhattan College

Manhattan College also uses its Center for Professional Development, alumni network, and New York City location to its advantage to place students in competitive internships, research, and job opportunities at companies such as American Express, Google, NBCUniversal , Tesla and IBM.

One program, Women Inspiring Successful Enterprises (WISE), aims to empower women by helping them with career development. WISE places participating students in internships that match their career goals. They offer stipends when internships are unpaid and provide students with free on-campus housing for the duration of their internship. Morillo, who is part of the program, is at American Express for her internship this summer.

“I have been successful because Manhattan College has been very helpful and resourceful,” he says.

This story has been updated to clarify that while Manhattan College has a great School of Liberal Arts, it also offers degrees in business, health, and engineering.

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