Cal State Dominguez Hills, Winston Salem State University, and Cal State Pomona Lead Tenth Annual Social Mobility Index (SMI)

“Carnegie Factor” now in play as several “famous” institutions begin aggressive upward SMI moves

Portland, Or., December 18, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – (BUSINESS WIRE)CollegeNET, Inc., a major provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education, today released the tenth annual Social Mobility Index (SMI), led this year by #1 California State University Dominguez Hills. 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 their students into good paying jobs, and apply their promotional messaging towards solving our nation’s social mobility problem. The 2023 SMI includes 1,198 four-year institutions.

Famous Schools Begin Major Upward SMI Moves

While California State schools along with CUNY schools continue to lead the SMI (Cal State and CUNY dominate the top 30 spots with 12 schools and 8 schools, respectively), the 2023 SMI reveals what could become an important trend: several famous institutions (long celebrated as “Best” under the U.S. News’ wealthist ranking scheme) made big upward moves this year, advancing their SMI ranking as much as 1000 places. Harvard University, for example, moved from a 2022 SMI ranking of 1363 to 363 in 2023; Stanford University jumped from number 1260 to 236; and University of California, Berkeley moved from 934 to 100 (cracking the SMI top 100 for the first time). Kudos to the civic mindedness of these influential schools as they align their administrative and admissions practices with the social mobility research contributions their faculties have long pioneered (e.g., the work of Saez, Zucman, et. al. at Berkeley; the work of Raj Chetty, et. al. at Harvard; the Carnegie Foundation at Stanford). Coincident with these powerful upward moves was the Carnegie Foundation’s announcement in February 2022 that they plan to review and update their core classification system—untouched since 1973—to incorporate measures of an institution’s role in addressing our nation’s social mobility problem.

The Top 20 SMI Schools for 2023

  1. California State University-Dominguez Hills
  2. Winston-Salem State University
  3. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona
  4. CUNY Lehman College
  5. Farmingdale State College
  6. CUNY Bernard M Baruch College
  7. California State University-Long Beach
  8. California State University-Los Angeles
  9. California State University-Northridge
  10. New Jersey City University
  11. CUNY Brooklyn College
  12. CUNY City College
  13. California State University-Channel Islands
  14. California State University-Fresno
  15. CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  16. California State University-San Marcos
  17. SUNY Buffalo State University
  18. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  19. CUNY York College
  20. California State University-Sacramento

Ethos: Institutional Messaging Shapes Public Priorities and Values

Last year the SMI introduced a new metric called Ethos, which measured for the first time how schools' messaging and communications teach faculty, students, and the public about their institutions’ attention (or indifference) to advancing social mobility. This year’s dramatic SMI moves by a handful of famous institutions now following the lead of social mobility bellwethers such as Cal State, SUNY, CUNY and Winston-Salem State, may help restore our public’s faith in higher education. According to Jim Wolfston, CollegeNET President and creator of the SMI: “Since the 1970s, the U.S. has been undertaking a radical experiment in economic inequality. According to the RAND Corporation, changes in the taxing regimen since the 70s have transferred $50 trillion of wealth from the bottom 90 percent of the U.S. population to the top one percent. Unfortunately, by celebrating wealth and its proxies and even cheating for rank and position in the U.S. News ‘Best’ scheme, universities have been complicit in this dangerous experiment. By framing their institutional strategy and mission according to U.S. News’ wealthist scheme, most institutions have swallowed whole Milton Friedman’s neo-liberal pronouncements around corporate ‘purpose.’”

Shortly before U.S. News introduced its “Best” college ranking scheme in the 1980’s, Mr. Friedman proclaimed that the sole mission of the corporation is to enrich its shareholders: “Whether blameworthy or not, the use of the cloak of social responsibility, and the nonsense spoken in its name by influential and prestigious businessmen, does clearly harm the foundations of a free society… The sole purpose of a business is to generate profits for its shareholders.” According to Mr. Wolfston: “What Friedman did not acknowledge, nor did universities bother to critically ponder, is that by framing their institutional mission and strategy according to his neo-liberal ethos, they thereby contradicted their own corporate responsibility to our society. Almost all universities today are organized as corporations. Since the 1890’s, corporations have successfully lobbied for the rights of ‘persons’ under U.S. laws. Most recently with the Citizens United and Hobby-Lobby decisions, the Supreme Court imbued corporations with all First Amendment rights and religious expression rights. Yet, along with the rights of persons come their civic responsibilities: ‘We the People … in Order to …form a more perfect Union…establish Justice…insure domestic Tranquility…promote the general Welfare.’ How can universities uphold their civic responsibility as ‘persons’ if their mission reduces to chasing and boasting about markers of wealth while groveling for higher position under U.S. News’ ‘Best’ scheme? When institutions myopically chase wealth, privilege, and exclusion instead of spreading opportunity, they undercut our nation’s social stability, sense of justice, and general Welfare.”

USNWR Bragging Drives an Insidious Feedback Loop

As the documentary RIGGED explains, over the past 40 years, many institutions and “non-profits” have remained stubbornly enmeshed in a feedback loop that has progressively eroded our nation's ability to advance social mobility and the American Dream. While the U.S. News “Best” Ranking is not the cause of the wealthist feedback loop, its annual publication nonetheless encapsulates and formalizes the prevailing ethos at the center of this loop, thereby shaping both public opinion and university strategy. USNWR's supposedly "Best" universities, rather than teaching against the USNWR scheme, instead issue press releases and publish web pages bragging about their position 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) to project an image of "selectivity." As more students fill out more applications while also chasing U.S. News "prestige", the “Best” schools driving the highest applicant demand can further justify tuition increases. In so doing, they open the way for all schools to follow suit, thus eroding affordability and accessibility across the entire U.S. higher education system.

Higher Education Has a Responsibility to Model Responsibility

Institutions that buy into the wealthist model teach the public to believe that the higher their rank under the USNWR “Best” scheme, the greater the value of the degrees granted by their institution. Students and families thus strive to move as far as possible up 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 education does not merely imply a degree of social status. More importantly it represents a degree of civic responsibility to apply one's skills for the benefit of family, employer, and our society. Any inspired institution should model this same ethos: its preoccupation 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 California State Dominguez Hills, Winston-Salem State University, California State University San Marcos, and the other long-standing leaders of the SMI for conscientiously modelling for families and students the arrow of responsibility behind both institutional purpose and pursuit of a college degree.

Supporting Social Mobility and Institutional Excellence

CollegeNET is the producer of the international award-winning documentary film, RIGGED. RIGGED 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 explains how the wealthist value system at the center of 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, 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 garnering numerous film festival nominations. Read more about RIGGED here.

About CollegeNET

CollegeNET, Inc. has been a prime mover and developer of important new product markets for higher education, including the world’s first automated classroom scheduling system and the first patented system for serving institution-branded web-based admissions forms. Today CollegeNET is pioneering new AI/Supercomputing/Video markets that enhance learning and career opportunities for students and citizens. The company’s new suite of Opportunity Drivers includes StandOut® Intelligent Mirror and StandOut Classroom. Intelligent Mirror provides patented AI voice analysis technology and self-guided practice for job seekers, professionals, and others who want to improve their speaking skills and self-confidence ( StandOut Classroom solves the long-standing “degree pathways” problem by introducing a new, asynchronous learning environment that requires no specification of time or place. CollegeNET systems are now used by more than 1,000 institutions worldwide for event and academic scheduling, virtual classroom instruction, career preparation, college admissions, campus hiring, candidate recruitment, and course evaluation.

Media Contact:
Jill Thacker