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College Presidents Who Lead the U.S. in Advancing Social Mobility Speak Out

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PORTLAND, Ore.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Presidents of colleges and universities that have maintained strong positions in the newly released 2021 Social Mobility Index (SMI) published by CollegeNET, Inc. are applying strategies that enroll and keep economically disadvantaged students in school despite mounting obstacles. They are speaking about the growing importance of their mission in the face of both Covid-19 and diminishing social mobility in the U.S.

  • S. David Wu, President, Baruch College, CUNY — “For the seventh consecutive year, Baruch College ranked #1 in the nation on CollegeNET’s Social Mobility Index (SMI), the premier benchmark recognizing colleges that move students from low-income families into good paying jobs. The CollegeNET #1 ranking has once again confirmed Baruch’s unique value proposition — achieving academic excellence while advancing the social mobility of our students. At a time when the value and relevance of a college education is increasingly questioned, our ability to propel students from all social and economic backgrounds to excellence and opportunity is more important than ever before.”
  • Michelle J. Anderson, President, Brooklyn College, CUNY — “Once again, Brooklyn College’s transformative work helping students into rewarding careers has been recognized in the Social Media Index for 2021. As we continue to work our way through one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, our focus continues to be offering whatever assistance our students need to succeed. Whether it be in the classroom or emotional and financial support, enhancing Brooklyn College student success is our number one goal.”
  • Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Principal, Fresno State University — “Fresno State University has been ranked among the top five universities in social mobility [by CollegeNET’s SMI] for the fifth consecutive year … This ranking shows how Fresno State University transforms its lives through world-class comprehensive higher education, which directly empowers the economic and social landscape of the community.”
  • Stephen Percy, President, Portland State University — “A new ranking from CollegeNET places PSU in the top 10% nationwide for social mobility and No.1 in Oregon at 114th out of 1,549 institutions … This recognition is proof that our focus on serving students and having a transformative effect on their lives is working. Building economic opportunity and preparing students for meaningful futures speaks to the core of who we are.”
  • Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar, President, University of Central Oklahoma — “We are incredibly proud to have [CollegeNET’s] nationally recognized data and ranking as evidence of living our mission to empower students. UCO offers students a promising path to socioeconomic success and a runway to a bright future,”
  • Richard Yao, Interim President, California State University, Channel Islands — “To hear that CSUCI has been rising steadily in the [Social Mobility Index] rankings … is gratifying, but we’re especially pleased to hear that our students are continuing to succeed during a persisting pandemic.”
  • Deborah Curtis, President, Indiana State University — “We’re proud to have been recognized once again by CollegeNET for Indiana State University’s life-changing education and its impact on our students. Improving lives and serving the public with high-quality, affordable higher education is at the core of our distinct mission.”
  • Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills — “Our university’s stellar performance on the Social Mobility Index is a testament to both the academic and co-curricular mission of the Dominguez Hills campus, and the dedication and commitment of our faculty and staff.”

Redefining the Notion of Prestige in Higher Education

The SMI was founded on the principle that growing disparity in economic opportunity is the most pressing problem of our time, and that higher education is in the strongest position to solve it. The SMI seeks to redirect the attribution of “prestige” away from colleges that are merely wealthy, and toward those that are advancing U.S. economic opportunity and social mobility.

Unlike other college rankings that celebrate wealth and its proxies,” says CollegeNET President Jim Wolfston, “the SMI helps families and policymakers determine which colleges are addressing the national problem of economic mobility. Administrators have a better chance to help strengthen U.S. economic mobility and the promise of the American Dream if they can identify and learn from colleges that are skilled at doing this.”

Given that the U.S. is now the least economically mobile among developed nations,” says Wolfston, “it is irresponsible to say an education institution is ‘better’ because it has a huge endowment, or because it admits students with higher SAT/ACT scores — which are most tightly correlated to family income. It is irresponsible to say an institution is ‘better’ because it drives up admissions application counts, turns away more students and then boasts about its ‘selectivity.’ In today’s world, where the American Dream is increasingly threatened, real prestige must accord to universities that educate and advance all motivated students, regardless of their economic background. This is the revolution in mission and values that the Social Mobility Index seeks to advance.”

Higher Education’s Vital Role in the Learning Age

Higher Education is the most important asset in the Learning Age,” Wolfston explained in his keynote address at Old Dominion University’s Social Mobility Symposium. “If we can distribute this vital asset across the economic spectrum, we can optimize our nation’s human capital development, prepare the next generation for citizenship and ensure social and economic opportunity. Most importantly, by rejecting the current trend toward on-campus economic homogeneity, a higher education institution can offer its students the chance to encounter a more challenging mix of people with diverse ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds. Collisions with the unexpected and unfamiliar are what best sharpen and prepare innovative minds. Thus, economic inclusion is not only a solution to a social justice issue, but also an optimizing strategy for training tomorrow’s innovators.”

Changing the Value System in U.S. Higher Education

CollegeNET is the producer of the new documentary film, RIGGED. The full-length feature explains how the long prevailing Wealthist value system in U.S. higher education limits opportunity and upward mobility and thus undermines U.S. democracy. RIGGED builds on the historical premise that growing economic imbalance ultimately leads to social unrest, political upheaval, and war. Through interviews with authors, historians, educators, and students, RIGGED shows how the value system underlying U.S. higher education constitutes a major risk factor for triggering these historic consequences and how this value system can be changed. Since its release in April, RIGGED has been awarded Best Documentary Feature at three festivals: Toronto Magazine Film Festival, the Mindfield Film Festival, and the World Premiere Film Awards. RIGGED has also been selected for nine upcoming regional and international film festivals and nominated for Best Documentary at the New Vision International Film Festival in Amsterdam. RIGGED is currently streaming on iTunes, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.

Read more about the SMI here.


CollegeNET, Inc.

Jill Thacker