CollegeNET Awards Five Key Social Mobility Innovators in Higher Education

Thought Leaders From Universities Across the Nation Meet at First Social Mobility Summit to Discuss Best Practices for Student Success in 2017 and Beyond

PORTLAND, Ore.--()--CollegeNET, Inc., a leading provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education and the developer of the Social Mobility Index (SMI), a data-driven system that ranks 4-year U.S. colleges and universities according to how effectively they enroll students from low-income backgrounds and graduate them into promising careers, has presented its 2017 Social Mobility Innovator Awards to five key thought leaders from universities across the nation.

The award recipients included:

  • Dr. Rory McElwee, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Rowan University in New Jersey
  • Dr. Kristin Croyle, Vice President for Student Success at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • Dr. Michael Dennin, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education at the University of California, Irvine
  • Dr. Elwood L. Robinson, Chancellor at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina
  • Dr. Jaye Padgett, Vice Provost for Student Success and a Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz

The 2017 Social Mobility Innovator Awards were presented at CollegeNET’s first Social Mobility Summit, in Portland, Oregon. During the Summit, the five award recipients participated in a roundtable discussion on best practices for student success, and heard a keynote address by CollegeNET CEO Jim Wolfston.

Wolfston’s opening address set the tone for the Social Mobility Summit; and, in subsequent remarks, he explained the far-reaching power and importance of economic inclusion on college campuses today.

Economic Inclusion Helps Spark Innovative Minds

"Higher education is the most important rung on the ladder of economic mobility,” said Wolfston. “But, even more importantly, by offering a challenging mix of diverse ideas and experiences, higher education serves as society's most effective vehicle for preparing students to encounter, navigate, and appreciate the unfamiliar. Since innovation always depends upon the ability to consider what could be different, economic inclusion is not only a solution to a social justice issue, it is a key strategy for building sufficient diversity on campus to spark innovative minds."

Five Important Approaches to Student Success

Expanding economic inclusiveness on campus requires innovating the administrative approach to student success. The roundtable conversation on best practices provided a diversity of insights.

Chancellor Robinson of Winston-Salem State, for example, spoke about the importance of student engagement.

Our strategic plan is rooted in the principles of equity and social justice,” said Robinson. “We believe colleges and universities must take responsibility for ensuring that all students receive access to the opportunities needed to prepare them for the demands of the 21st century. To do that, we have established a culture of engagement that provides mentoring, advising, and social and cultural activities designed to help our students be successful both academically and socially.”

Dr. Croyle of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley discussed her school’s efforts to make college more affordable.

Our students’ average family income last year was $33,000,” said Croyle. “As a result, we’ve kept our tuition as low as possible, and we now have one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas and in the country. We’re also guaranteeing this tuition for four years. And, by capping tuition and fee charges at 12 credit hours each semester, we’re trying to help students save money and graduate earlier by allowing them to take extra credits for free.”

Dr. McElwee of Rowan University outlined how the four strategic pillars that her school has embraced -- quality, access, affordability, and serving as a regional economic engine -- enhance student success.

It’s been very exciting over the past five years,” said McElwee, “and we’ve seen significant impact on our retention and four-year graduation rates. Four years ago, our four-year graduation rate was about 40 percent, and it’s now at 52 percent. Much of that improvement has been driven by students from underserved backgrounds.”

Dr. Padgett of the University of California, Santa Cruz, talked about his school’s continuing commitment to a “whole-student” philosophy.

We know that what happens inside the classroom can be affected by what happens outside the classroom,” said Padgett. “Sometimes, for example, first-generation students feel like they don’t belong on campus, and this can impact how they’re doing academically. Our challenge is making sure that our entire university organization is plugged in and has a deep understanding of this.”

And, finally, Dr. Dennin of the University of California, Irvine, explained how critical a unique, personalized and scalable support system is for students -- especially at large universities.

We have an incredibly diverse student body of 23,000, with first-generation students making up about 55 percent of the total,” said Dennin. “At the same time, our four-year graduation rate is nearly 70 percent. We think that one of the underlying keys to this success has been leveraging localized academic advising and centralized support for our students.”

Latest SMI Rankings Will Be Released This Fall

The five recipients of CollegeNET’s 2017 Social Mobility Innovator Awards represent universities that have ranked near the top of the Social Mobility Index over the past three years.

The goal of the SMI is to help redirect the attribution of "prestige" in our higher education system toward colleges and universities that are advancing economic opportunity, and thus addressing one of the most pressing issues of our time.

The latest SMI rankings will be published during fall 2017.

See the complete 2016 SMI rankings.

About CollegeNET, Inc.

CollegeNET, Inc. builds on-demand SaaS technologies that help institutions improve operational efficiency, enhance communication with constituents, and save money. The company’s systems are used by 1,300 institutions worldwide for event and academic scheduling, recruitment and admissions management, web-based tuition processing, instructor and course evaluation, and web-based career services for students. The company operates the social network through which students create topics, write about them, and vote to determine who will win scholarships. has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to date. The company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.


CollegeNET, Inc.
Jill Thacker


CollegeNET, Inc.
Jill Thacker