PORTLAND, Ore.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--CollegeNET, Inc., a leading provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education and the developer of the Social Mobility Index (SMI), today announced that Wichita State University has been selected as a Social Mobility Innovator for 2018.
The Social Mobility Index 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. The goal of the SMI -- now in its fourth year -- is to help redirect the attribution of "prestige" in the higher education system toward colleges and universities that are advancing economic mobility, the most pressing civic issue of our time.
Wichita State enrolls approximately 15,000 students and has consistently ranked among the top 4-6 percent of all schools on the SMI over the past four years (2014-2017). More than 47 percent of the freshmen who matriculated at Wichita State directly from high school in the fall of 2017 came from families in which neither parent completed a four-year college degree. And the school is actively recruiting and successfully retaining low-income students throughout America’s heartland.
“Most higher education rankings approach the problem of comparing colleges and universities as evaluating a brand for consumer purchase,” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET. “The SMI, on the other hand, helps policymakers, students and their families understand which colleges and universities are addressing the vital issue of improving U.S. economic mobility. By sponsoring the SMI, we hope administrators in higher education will begin to shift more of their focus on strengthening U.S. economic mobility and restoring the promise of the American Dream. The first step is to identify and learn from colleges and universities like Wichita State that are skilled at doing this.”
Each year, CollegeNET selects and acknowledges schools -- such as Wichita State -- that are fostering social mobility through innovative programs. CollegeNET presents the annual Social Mobility Innovator Awards to five key thought leaders from U.S. colleges and universities at the Social Mobility Summit. The Social Mobility Summit is an annual forum on economic inclusion and best practices for student success, held in Portland, Oregon each summer.
Economic Inclusion Helps Spark Innovative Minds
“College education now constitutes the most important rung on the ladder of economic mobility,” says Wolfston. “But particularly when it offers a challenging environment populated with diverse ideas, personal backgrounds and viewpoints, a college does something even more important: it prepares students to encounter, navigate and appreciate the unfamiliar. Given that innovation always depends upon a person’s ability to consider what could be different from their own assumptions and experiences, economic inclusion is thus not only a solution to a social justice issue, it is a key strategy for sparking innovative minds.”
Building a Purposeful Campus Culture for Everyone
Located in south-central Kansas, Wichita State was selected as a CollegeNET Social Mobility Innovator for 2018 because of its multi-year and institution-wide commitment to recruiting and retaining students from under-served and under-represented populations in Dallas-Fort Worth, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, which are located along the I-35 corridor.
“We want to attract a very diverse group of students to Wichita State so they can learn, grow and, hopefully, stay and take advantage of the good-paying jobs in manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare and technology that are right here in the Wichita metro region,” says Richard Muma, Provost and Professor at Wichita State. “Building a purposeful campus culture for everyone has been a major focus for us.”
Wichita State’s inclusive culture -- in addition to its emphasis on career preparation -- enabled it to increase enrollment of first-time new freshmen from the I-35 corridor by 53.1 percent in 2017 versus 2016.
Improving Each Student’s Future
Once students arrive at Wichita State, the school does all it can to help them succeed on campus.
“Our first priority,” explains Kim Sandlin, Director of Student Success at Wichita State, “is to understand who our students are, their backgrounds, and where they come from. Along the way, we’re often assisted by data, which allows us to see where we can have the most impact and how we can most effectively help students reach their full potential. The goal and priority is to help improve each student’s future as well as their family’s future.”
Adds Alicia Sanchez, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Wichita State: “We are very holistic in the way we support our students. If there’s been a death in the family, or the family home has been foreclosed on, for example, we know that’s going to affect a student’s performance in the classroom, and so we have lots of conversations and meet them where they are. We’re a home away from home, and we want students with many different identities to feel really connected and be their own authentic selves on campus.”
Wichita State’s care and concern has dramatically increased retention rates for degree-seeking under-served students. Over 75 percent of the under-served cohort that matriculated as freshmen in 2016, for example, returned for a second year at Wichita State, compared with 67 percent for the school’s under-served freshman cohort of 2015 and 73 percent for all Wichita State freshmen who matriculated in 2016. The second-year retention rate jumped higher, to 84 percent, for those freshmen who participated in Wichita State’s Multicultural Student Mentoring Program.
Interacting Positively and Productively With Students
Wichita State’s faculty has developed its own technology tool -- Student Early Alert System (SEAS) -- to help it interact more positively and productively with students. If a student fails to attend class, isn’t participating in class, misses assignments or under-performs on exams, he or she receives a supportive digital message from the teacher, with suggestions or a course of action for improvement.
“We’re determined to keep our retention numbers strong, and that means keeping our student population healthy by mitigating risk,” says Muma. “Data is definitely part of the solution here. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of the students who are flagged by SEAS end up changing their academic behavior. Our faculty members have seen that this tool works, that it’s worth using, and that’s why they keep investing time and energy in it.”
Reversing Higher Education’s Harmful “Tri-Imperfecta”
“Wichita State is providing real educational opportunity to promising students regardless of their economic background,” concludes CollegeNET’s Wolfston. “And Wichita State’s civic contribution is key given that economic mobility and the American Dream are rapidly deteriorating. Unfortunately, higher education is now caught in a damaging ‘tri-imperfecta.’ Tuitions are increasing, economic inclusion is declining on campuses and Pell Grants -- intended for disadvantaged students with financial need -- are being awarded more frequently to richer families. Wichita State’s innovative approach provides a strong example for how we can reverse these trends.”