Fifth Annual Social Mobility Index (SMI) Highlights Performance and Pitfalls as Attention to Social Mobility Grows Among US Colleges and Universities

  • Five Schools Have Ranked in the SMI Top 20 for Five Consecutive Years
  • California Public Universities Account for More than Half of the SMI Top 20 for the Second Consecutive Year
  • Baruch College Ranks #1 on the SMI for the Fourth Straight Year
  • The CUNY System in New York City Placed Five Schools in the 2018 SMI Top 20
  • Seventeen Schools Now Charge Higher Annual Tuition than Their Graduates’ Median Five-Year Salary
  • At Least 50 Institutions Award Over Half Their Pell Grants to Richer Families
  • The Percentage of Pell Grants Awarded to Richer Families Continues to Climb

PORTLAND, Ore.--()--CollegeNET, Inc., a leading provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education, today released the 2018 Social Mobility Index (SMI), a data-driven analysis that ranks four-year US colleges and universities according to how effectively they enroll students from low-income backgrounds and graduate them into well paying jobs.

Five-Year Data Identify Schools with Sustained High Rankings

Five schools have ranked in the SMI Top 20 for five consecutive years: California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Long Beach; California State University, Stanislaus; and Winston-Salem State University, North Carolina.

In addition to Baruch College’s #1 ranking for the fourth consecutive year, public universities in California -- both the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems -- dominate the 2018 SMI rankings for the fifth year in a row. And, as in 2017, UC and CSU schools account for more than half of the top 20 spots on the 2018 SMI. The CUNY system in New York City placed five schools in the 2018 SMI top 20.

The 2018 SMI marks its fifth year and now benchmarks 1,380 schools.

Redefining the Notion of Prestige in Higher Education

The goal of the SMI is to help redirect the attribution of "prestige" in our higher education system toward colleges that are addressing the major civic problems of our time. Today, no social, political or economic problem is more pressing than advancing economic opportunity more broadly for our citizens.

Unlike other college rankings that are aimed primarily at helping students select a college,” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET, “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 US economic mobility and the promise of the American Dream if they can identify and learn from colleges that are skilled at doing this.”

“The first step in this process,” continues Wolfston, “is to challenge obsolete notions about university ‘prestige.’ Given the historic, unsustainable and growing gap in US income and wealth, and the resulting political divisions and conflict now festering in our society, it is irresponsible to celebrate as ‘best’ those institutions that cull for, groom and affirm the rich. The most important role of education is to serve as a rung on the ladder of economic mobility. This rung is now broken as administrators continue to accept, promote and grovel to an obsolete, 1980’s-era ecosystem in which educational institutions are celebrated for chasing wealth.

Given that the US is now the least economically mobile among developed nations, it is irresponsible to say an education institution is ‘better’ because it has a huge endowment, or because it admits students with higher SAT 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 ‘selectivity.’ In today’s world, where the American Dream is threatened, real prestige must accord to universities that educate and advance all motivated students, regardless of their economic background. This is the new kind of prestige that the Social Mobility Index seeks to promote.”

Advancing Social Mobility on Campuses From Coast to Coast

In addition to the top performers above, other schools advancing social mobility include: Rutgers University, Newark (Top 30 ranking for the past three years); Wichita State University (Top 10 percent ranking for the past five years); University of California, San Diego (Top 10 percent ranking for the past four years); Western Kentucky University (Top 10 percent ranking for the past five years); and University of Illinois, Chicago (Top 10 percent ranking for the past four years).

The Top 20 SMI Schools, 2018 Rankings

CUNY Bernard M Baruch College

California State University, Chico

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

California State University, Fresno

San Jose State University

California State University, Long Beach

Winston-Salem State University

Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences

California State University, East Bay

Universidad Metropolitana

CUNY Queens College

San Francisco State University

California State University, Northridge

California State University, Los Angeles

CUNY Brooklyn College

Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico-Ponce

California State University, San Bernardino

CUNY Hunter College

California State University, Stanislaus

CUNY City College

Read more about the 2018 SMI rankings and methodology here.

Higher Education’s Vital Role in the Learning Age

Higher Education is the most important asset in the Learning Age,” says Wolfston. “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, it is an optimizing strategy for training tomorrow’s innovators.”

About CollegeNET

CollegeNET, Inc., is a Portland, Oregon-based company that develops and operates web-based, administrative systems for higher education institutions worldwide. CollegeNET's SaaS services include: recruiting and admissions processing; academic and event scheduling; faculty/course evaluation management; cultural learning and college preparation; and electronic academic records delivery.

CollegeNET is also the developer and publisher of the Social Mobility Index (SMI). The SMI measures the extent to which a college or university admits economically disadvantaged students at lower tuition, supports their academic progress through graduation and prepares them to obtain well-paying jobs. The purpose of the SMI is to recast the competition for "prestige" among institutions so that it drives factors that improve access, affordability and graduation rate, and thereby advances higher education's contribution to economic mobility.

CollegeNET directly supports greater affordability and access to higher education through its student forum. Students cite and debate topics, vote for each other and compete for scholarships. CollegeNET has awarded more than $2 million in college scholarships to date through this site. The company also sponsors regional events on university campuses that focus on student success and social mobility. Each summer, the Social Mobility Innovator Awards are presented at CollegeNET’s Social Mobility Summit, in Portland, Oregon. CollegeNET recently published an e-book that offers best practices from student success professionals who are pioneering innovative programs that support under-served and under-represented students’ academic, personal and financial needs.


CollegeNET, Inc.
Jill Thacker


CollegeNET, Inc.
Jill Thacker