CSU San Marcos Tops Ninth Annual Social Mobility Index of Schools Driving the American Dream Through Their Ethos and Action

It isn't just what the leading SMI schools do, it’s what they teach the public and the world about the purpose of education

Portland, Or., November 4, 2022

CollegeNET, Inc., a major provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education, today released the ninth annual Social Mobility Index (SMI) led this year by #1 California State University San Marcos. The SMI benchmarks four-year U.S. colleges and universities according to how they hold the line on tuition, enroll students from low-income backgrounds, graduate those students into good jobs, and apply their promotional messaging to solve our nation’s social mobility problem. The 2022 SMI includes 1,414 four-year institutions.

Ethos: The New Metric that Evaluates Institutional Messaging

This year’s SMI incorporates a new metric called Ethos that measures for the first time how schools' real messaging and communications teach their students and the public about institutional mission and the value of a college degree. Unfortunately, and in contrast to SMI leaders such as CSU San Marcos, most U.S. higher education leaders remain complicit in an insidious feedback loop that over the past 40 years has progressively eroded our nation's ability to advance social mobility and the American Dream. At the center of this feedback loop is the annual U.S. News & World Report ranking which purports to measure an institution's "prestige" according to proxies of its wealth and exclusion.

USNWR Bragging Drives an Insidious Feedback Loop

As the documentary RIGGED explains, although the U.S. News Wealthist Ranking is not the cause of the wealthist feedback loop, the publication nonetheless encapsulates and formalizes the prevailing ethos at the center of this loop. USNWR's supposedly "Best" universities, rather than teaching against the USNWR scheme, instead issue press releases and publish web pages bragging about their position and advancement under the scheme thereby endorsing it and teaching families and their children to continue accepting its legitimacy. There is little hope for transforming our higher education system into a genuine engine for economic mobility unless this feedback loop can be challenged and broken.

For the many institutions still beholden to the wealthist ethos, their strategic plans are generally aimed at hoarding endowment money and increasing the number of applicants and corresponding rejections so as to project an image of "selectivity." As more students fill out more applications chasing U.S. News "prestige" for themselves, the schools experiencing the greatest demand can justify increasing their tuition. They thereby lead the way for all schools to follow suit thus eroding affordability and accessibility across the entire US higher education system.

Higher Education Has a Responsibility to Model Responsibility

Institutions who buy into the wealthist model presume that the higher their rank under the USNWR scheme the greater the value of the degree granted by their institution. Students and families are thus taught to climb as far up as possible in the wealthist pecking order, and often do so while taking on enormous debt. The corollary to this pursuit, however, is that the primary purpose of obtaining a college degree is to garner status for oneself. Yet to any enlightened person a college degree does not merely mean a degree of social status. More importantly it represents a degree of civic responsibility to apply one's skills for the benefit of their family, their employer, and our society. An inspired institution should model this same ethos: that the preoccupation of the institution should not be to collect honor for itself, but to deliver improvement to society and benefit to the future. Unfortunately, as institutions continue to cravenly chase status for themselves at the expense of solving our nation's social mobility problem -- even sometimes cheating for USNWR rank -- they model the opposite purpose. Congratulations to CSU San Marcos and the other leaders of the SMI for conscientiously addressing the national emergency around social mobility and thereby teaching families and students the arrow of responsibility behind both institutional mission and the pursuit of a college degree.

The Top 20 SMI Schools for 2021

  • California State University-San Marcos
  • CUNY York College
  • SUNY Buffalo State
  • California State University-Long Beach
  • CUNY Brooklyn College
  • CUNY Bernard M Baruch College
  • CUNY Queens College
  • Winston-Salem State University
  • California State University-Los Angeles
  • California State University-Bakersfield
  • California State University-East Bay
  • College of Staten Island CUNY
  • SUNY Brockport
  • SUNY Maritime College
  • California State University-Northridge
  • San Francisco State University
  • California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
  • CUNY Lehman College
  • Southern University and A & M College
  • Fashion Institute of Technologyrnia State University, Fullerton

Supporting Social Mobility and Institutional Excellence

CollegeNET recognizes schools that are advancing social mobility through various programs. CollegeNET presents the Social Mobility Innovator Awards to student success leaders from US colleges and universities at the Social Mobility Summit — a forum on economic inclusion and best practices for student success held in Portland, Oregon. CollegeNET has also published an e-book that describes best practices from student success professionals who are pioneering innovative programs that support underserved and underrepresented students’ academic, personal and financial needs. Further, CollegeNET sponsors regional conferences to debate and discuss social mobility issues.

CollegeNET is the producer of the new documentary film, RIGGED. This 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 The Septimius Awards in Amsterdam, the Toronto Magazine Film Festival, the Mindfield Film Festival, and the World Premiere Film Awards, in addition to numerous nominations and acknowledgments. RIGGED is currently streaming on iTunes, Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.

Read more about the SMI here.

Media Contact:
Jill Thacker