Which colleges provide the greatest upward mobility?

Minority-serving institutions have record of success despite having less money to spend
By: | October 8, 2019
CUNY Lehman College, a Hispanic-serving institution with among the highest rates of social mobility for students, recently opened a virtual reality center on its campus in the Bronx to train students for careers in cutting-edge industries.Lehman College of the City University of New York, a Hispanic-serving institution with among the highest rates of social mobility for students, recently opened a virtual reality center on its campus in the Bronx to train students for careers in cutting-edge industries.

Students at historically black colleges and universities experience greater upward mobility than do students at other institutions, according to a new report from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institut for Leadership, Equity, and Justice at Rutgers Graduate School of Education in New Jersey.

The report, “Moving Upward and Onward: Income Mobility at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” found that nearly 70% of students at HBCUs attain at least middle-class incomes while two-thirds of low-income students at HBCUs end up in at least the middle class.

“Studies have highlighted the awesome work of America’s HBCUs, a sector where over two-thirds of students are Pell Grant eligible, but as a sector has been able to achieve the greatest results in terms of mobility to the middle class and beyond,” Walter Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University in New Orleans, wrote in the report.


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A 2018 report by the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy reached similar conclusions about social mobility.

“Minority Serving Institutions as Engines of Upward Mobility” found that minority-serving institutions, even those with smaller budgets, “propel their students from the bottom to the top of the income distribution at higher rates” than do other schools. The social mobility rate at Hispanic-serving institutions was three times that of nonminority-serving institutions, the report said.

“While they’re doing such an incredible job for the country, they’re also some of the least-resourced institutions we have,” the lead author of the report, Lorelle Espinosa, told University Business last year.

Lehman College of the City University of New York had the highest rate of upward mobility among all Hispanic-serving institutions. The Bronx college last year opened a virtual reality center to train students for jobs in the growing field, Assistant Vice President for Strategy, Policy and Analytics Jonathan Gagliardi told UB.

“We’re committed to helping people climb the ladder,” Gagliardi said. “You uplift folks by giving them degrees that help them earn more and insulate against unemployment.”


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Publications that rank colleges have, to varying degrees, considered social mobility as a component of their calculations. The most prominent is Washington Monthlywhich has measured social mobility for several years. But U.S. News and World Report‘s introduction of social mobility to its rankings last year drew greater skepticism, Inside Higher Ed reported. 

Meanwhile, a group of higher ed economists has launched a nonprofit, Opportunity Insights, to investigate reduced social mobility in the U.S. and how colleges and universities are responding, according to The Hechinger Report.

“Lower-income and first-generation students seem to have better outcomes when they attend private institutions, and particularly smaller colleges where support systems and faculty engagement combine to create institutional cultures strongly centered on student success,” Jeffrey R. Docking, president of Adrian College in Michigan, wrote in UB in 2016. “But here’s the paradox: It’s not the wealthier institutions doing the best job of accomplishing this objective. It’s less-affluent institutions far down the endowment pecking order.”


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