SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Zakia Bouachraoui, William Schmarzo

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Baruch College of the City University of New York is Named a 2018 Social Mobility Innovator

CollegeNET, Inc., a leading provider of web-based on-demand technologies for higher education and the developer of the Social Mobility Index (SMI), named Baruch College of the City University of New York a Social Mobility Innovator for 2018.

The Social Mobility Index ranks 4-year U.S. colleges and universities according to how effectively they enroll students from low-income backgrounds and graduate them into promising careers. The goal of the SMI—now in its fourth year—is to help redirect the attribution of "prestige" in the higher education system toward colleges and universities that are advancing economic mobility, the most pressing civic issue of our time.

“Most higher education rankings approach the problem of comparing colleges and universities as evaluating a brand for consumer purchase,” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET. “The SMI, on the other hand, helps policymakers, students and their families understand which colleges and universities are addressing the vital issue of improving U.S. economic mobility. By sponsoring the SMI, we hope administrators in higher education will begin to shift more of their focus on strengthening U.S. economic mobility and restoring the promise of the American Dream. The first step is to identify and learn from colleges and universities like Baruch that are skilled at doing this.”

“At a time when the gulf between the richest and poorest households in the country is widening dramatically, education plays a critical role in addressing economic inequality,” explains Mitchel B. Wallerstein, PhD., President of Baruch College. “It is essential that higher education is made available at an affordable price to those who need it most.”

Nurturing Successful College Graduates

Baruch enrolls more than 18,000 students (including 15,200 undergraduates), who speak more than 104 languages and trace their heritage to more than 168 countries. The school was selected as a CollegeNET Social Mobility Innovator for 2018 because it offers low-income students substantial start-to-finish programming that supports them every step of the way -- from matriculation to career placement. These services are critical because many Baruch students face significant challenges to college completion. For example:

  • 71 percent of enrolled undergraduate students at Baruch filed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in 2016-17
  • 37 percent of those FAFSA filers are the first in their families to attend college
  • 65 percent of those FAFSA filers come from families with household incomes of less than $40,000

Baruch’s start-to-finish approach is generating significant results. The school reports a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent for first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshman who matriculated in 2011 and graduated in 2017. The national rate is 56.7 percent among 4-year public and private institutions. Ultimately, the average Baruch graduate lands a job with a starting salary of more than $50,000, a sum that is often greater than the student’s overall family income. This helps explain why, according to Business Insider, Baruch is the

Economic Inclusion Helps Spark Innovative Minds

"College education now constitutes the most important rung on the ladder of economic mobility,” says Wolfston. “But particularly when it offers a challenging environment populated with diverse ideas, personal backgrounds and viewpoints, a college does something even more important: it prepares students to encounter, navigate and appreciate the unfamiliar. Given that innovation always depends upon a person’s ability to consider what could be different from their own assumptions and experiences, economic inclusion is thus not only a solution to a social justice issue, it is a key strategy for sparking innovative minds."

Fostering Student-Professor Connections

Baruch professors embrace economic inclusion and work hard to spark innovative minds.

Mamta Melwani is one student who has benefited from this nurturing educational environment. Born in Singapore and raised in modest circumstances in India, Melwani came to the U.S. for her college degree. Now a senior at Baruch in the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, she is currently an intern for the New York State Legislature in Albany. “I’m where I am because of the strong relationships I’ve built with my professors,” she says. “They’re patient and they’ve gone out of their way for me, encouraging me to learn what I need to learn, to push past my limits and explore things outside of my comfort zone.”

Gregory Usvitsky, a freshman majoring in political science and philosophy in Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, also appreciates Baruch’s commitment to its students. Usvitsky, whose parents came to the U.S. from Russia in 1989 as political refugees, hopes to become a lawyer to help represent the next generation of immigrants in this country. “Professors are open, understanding, embracing and comforting at Baruch,” he says. “They listen. They want you to have a voice, and having a voice is everything. My goal as a lawyer is to speak for those who have no voice.”

Recent Baruch graduates still recognize and appreciate the contributions of their alma mater.

Mitchell Garcia, a 2016 graduate of the Zicklin School of Business, for example, is now a Global Trade Finance and Receivables Product Analyst for HSBC. “Baruch helped me find my North Star,” Garcia says. “It opened up the world for me and put me on par with someone who went to a top Ivy League school.”

And Shantel Deleon, a 2017 graduate of the Zicklin School of Business who is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Accounting at Baruch, is set to launch her career at Ernst & Young (EY) this summer. “I met people who were invested in my journey at Baruch,” Deleon says, “and I was receptive to the feedback and opportunities they gave me.”

Propelling Students Into Their First Jobs -- and Beyond

President Wallerstein says he is proud of his engaged students and energetic faculty. But he believes that to be a truly dynamic engine of social mobility, institutions of higher education must offer more than just excellent academics at an affordable price. “Many of the undergraduate students at a place like Baruch College are the first in their family to go to college, or they may be undocumented, or they may be living below the poverty line, and they have particular needs that institutions of higher education must address so that they can manage the financial, psychological, emotional and social demands of higher education and professional life,” Dr. Wallerstein noted.

“Baruch has had career services and mentorship opportunities in place for decades, and they really do help propel students into their first jobs and beyond,” Wallerstein says. “Our support services include soft-skills training, including programs designed to help improve both written and spoken English, since many of the College’s students do not speak English as their native language. We also provide career advising and résumé writing, networking etiquette and opportunities, and financial support so students can take valuable and often unpaid internships. Sometimes students even need suits to wear to the job interview, and the College maintains racks of donated garments exclusively for this purpose.”

Reversing Higher Education’s Harmful “Tri-Imperfecta”

“Baruch is providing real educational opportunity to promising students regardless of their economic background,” says CollegeNET’s Wolfston. “Baruch’s civic contribution is key given that economic mobility and the American Dream are rapidly deteriorating. Unfortunately, higher education is now caught in a damaging ‘tri-imperfecta.’ Tuitions are increasing, economic inclusion is declining on campuses and Pell Grants -- intended for disadvantaged students with financial need -- are being awarded more frequently to richer families. Baruch’s innovative approach provides a strong example for how we can reverse these trends.”

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