March is far and away my favorite month on the college calendar.  It’s not because kids receive acceptance letters and the accompanying financial aid awards (though that is very cool!).  March is synonymous with basketball, in particular college basketball, and even more specifically, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, which is perhaps the most perfect thing in sports.

I love that smaller colleges get to compete with the big boys (and girls).  I love watching the student body storm the court at schools like Montana, punching a ticket to ‘the Dance’. I love the TV images of the teams dressed in warm ups and awaiting their fate, only to celebrate like little boys who just won a 5th grade pizza party.  I love seeing an Ivy League school on the bracket each year, hopeful that they can knock off a high seed in the first round.   I love the bands, the cheerleaders, the mascots, students with face paint, girls (and boys) with teary eyes after emotional losses, and old men sporting colorful, polyester golf shirts with the school logo on their chests.  And this year especially, I love the chances of my hometown team, the University of Miami, making a glorious and historical run.

Most of all I love match ups, and I know I won’t be all alone in America when my focus strays from work on Thursday and Friday afternoon as I peek at the first round scores (hello, Mr. President!).

This tournament is always so hard to predict even if you have expert basketball knowledge, and that’s why I’m proud to release my 6th Annual University Generosity Bracketology, where the winner is the school with the best ‘tuition discounting’ policies and graduation rates.  This year I gave greater emphasis to graduation rates than in years past.  It takes, on average, about 5.5 years to graduate from college today, and the trend is particularly problematic at the state universities nationwide.  The more time your kids spend in college, the more it’s going to cost you as parents.  That’s why it’s important to research graduation rates when selecting colleges.  A great tool for that is the College Results website.

If your college basketball knowledge is somewhat limited, and choosing a winning team (or the right college, for that matter) based on its mascot or its weather seems trivial, here’s an alternative approach.  It may not be a formula for bracket success at the office, but it’s certainly a solid strategy when researching colleges with your child…and it’s a creative way to discern between two teams you have absolutely no clue about.  As a side benefit, you may actually sound intelligent (from a non-basketball standpoint) when explaining your reasoning to your colleagues at the office.

Being a geek used to be uncool, but Bill Gates and Bob Costas changed that.  Hey, if Inside Higher Ed can put together an Academic bracket, then I can put together a Generosity bracket.

A common theme in this year’s bracket is that the traditionally Catholic schools who are represented boast relatively high 4-year graduation rates and generosity levels.  My championship game has Notre Dame edging Georgetown, two Catholic schools representing the soon-to-be defunct Big East. Combine that with strong possible showings from other Catholic schools like Creighton, St. Louis, and #1 ranked Gonzaga, and this year is shaping up as the Year of the Catholics.  Newly elected Pope Francis would be proud.

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