CSUSM Ranks First in the Nation in Social Mobility

(Source / CSUSM November 2022)


During her annual Report to the Community address in September, Cal State San Marcos President Ellen Neufeldt advanced what she called an “audacious” idea: that CSUSM will become a national leader in social mobility.

Now, according to at least one metric, the university is the national leader in social mobility.

CSUSM ranks first nationally out of more than 1,400 schools measured in the ninth annual Social Mobility Index (SMI) by the online publication CollegeNET. The SMI rates 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.”

CSUSM had been included in the top 5% of the index for each of the previous seven years, but this is the first time that it has topped the list. Seven other California State University schools ranked in the top 20.   

The SMI differs from most other rankings of colleges and universities in that it focuses directly on the factors that enable economic mobility. The index traditionally has been computed from five variables: published tuition, percentage of students whose families have incomes below $48,000 (slightly below the U.S. median), graduation rate, median salary approximately five years after graduation, and endowment size. CollegeNET contrasts its rankings and the concept of social mobility in general with the much-debated annual rankings by U.S. News & World Report, which are grounded more in institutional prestige and wealth.

“I’m thrilled that the 2022 Social Mobility Index recognizes the critical work we’re doing in this area,” Neufeldt said. “We’re building upon CSUSM’s reputation as an escalator of social mobility.  At a time when the value of higher education is being called into question, CSUSM stands out as a beacon of hope and opportunity. This recognition reflects the incredible work of our entire campus community to put our students and our region first in all that we do.”

CSUSM has been dedicated to student success and social mobility since its founding in 1989. From first-year programs to learning communities, community-based learning opportunities, internships, undergraduate research and more, the university works to foster deep learning and academic success by engaging students in meaningful and innovative educational experiences.  

These practices are especially beneficial to underserved student groups. CSUSM is a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution with a diverse student population. At least 52% of graduates are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. One in nine students is a veteran, service member or military-affiliated dependent. CSUSM is also a major contributor of bachelor’s degree holders to the region’s workforce, with about 80% of students remaining in the region following graduation.  

Since Neufeldt became president in 2019, social mobility has become even more woven into CSUSM’s mission. In fact, it’s a pillar of the five-year strategic plan that the university unveiled last spring, The Power of CSUSM.

CSUSM already has taken notable strides toward the objectives outlined in the strategic plan. In May, the university received a $1 million gift from longtime donors Steve and Laura Wagner to create a fund devoted to social mobility, and in June it hosted the two-day National Social Mobility Symposium, which was emceed by the chair of the CSU Board of Trustees and attended by university leaders, faculty and experts from across the country.

“I look forward to continuing our efforts to be a national model in the area of student success and social mobility – building on the important work already in place and taking it to new heights through innovation, collaboration and inclusion,” Neufeldt said.