A list ranking the nation’s universities based on upward mobility includes the expected big names like Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University and University of California, Irvine, which occupy the top four spots.
However, it was the fifth school on the list that has taken everyone by surprise—California State University, Stanislaus.
Amy Laitinen, a former White House and Department of Education advisor who was asked to come up with a ranking system for the nation’s universities based on upward mobility, was arguably the most surprised to see Stanislaus State rank so highly simply because she didn’t even know the university existed.
“Honestly, I didn’t have a clue about Stanislaus,” said Laitinen, who is now the director for higher education at New America. “The dominant narrative in the majority of these studies is about the Ivies and the few elite publics. But some of these smaller public schools are doing incredible jobs.
“Here’s one just 90 miles away from where I went to grad school (UC Berkeley) and I had no idea it was there,” continued Laitinen.
Laitinen was one of three experts in higher education who was asked by National Public Radio in September to come up with a formula to measure upward mobility following the release of the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Although the data set tracked 1,730 variables from more than 7,000 schools nationwide, it did not include rankings.
Laitinen’s final results were the culmination of her methodology that was adopted and processed by NPR. In her approach, Laitinen gave equal weight to six areas: percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, net price for families making less than $48,000, percentage of first-generation college students, default rates, on-time graduation rates and median income 10 years after entry.
“I’m glad this didn’t turn out to be another list with just the Harvards, MITs and Stanfords because those schools by comparison don’t serve a lot of income students,” said Laitinen. “They take a lot of students who are well-off by accident of birth, and it’s easy to take folks who are primed to succeed by virtue of wealth and move them along.
“It’s not so easy to take kids from poorer backgrounds and help them attain the tools to succeed,” continued Laitinen.
Stanislaus State alumna Adrian Harrell was just one graduate who exemplifies the upward mobility that is facilitated at the university. Harrell and her twin brother were the first in their family to attend college. She graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in French.
Harrell now owns New Bridge Management, which is a property management company that she opened in 2009 in Turlock. She said that among other reasons, she decided to open her business in Turlock to be close to the university so that she could potentially draw in additional employees.
“I credit Stan State with everything,” said Harrell. “The university really gave me opportunities to fulfill my lifelong goal which was to get into international business. I was able to receive opportunities at Stan State that never in a million years would I have gotten at other institutions.
“Without Stan State and the opportunities it was able to afford me, I would not be where I am today,” continued Harrell.
Fellow Stanislaus State alumna Claudine Sherron, who majored in Criminal Justice and graduated in 2004, said that she decided to pursue a degree in her early 30s in order to better support her children.
“I was not a strong high school student at all and tried junior college, but eventually dropped out,” said Sherron. “I married and had a family and my husband was the primary support of our family. At some point I realized that if something happened to him, without an education I would likely not be able to support my children.”
When Sherron began her endeavor towards obtaining a higher education, she was getting paid minimum wage working for a large local retailer. She now is an attorney and partner with The Strategic Legal Group, PC in Turlock thanks to the financial assistance and academic support she received from Stanislaus State.
“I think because of the demographics of the student population they are in the business of teaching that success is not dependent on where you come from or other extrinsic factors,” said Sherron. “Stan seems to function under the premise that education and success is something that is available to everyone.”