Cal State Long Beach was recognized as on of the best universities in the country at taking students from the lowest income brackets and moving them into the top income brackets.
A new study published Wednesday exploring the role of universities and colleges in the United States and how they affect a student’s upward mobility revealed that some of the more working-class institutions, like Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), fared better than traditionally elite universities.
The study Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility, analyzed data from over 30 million students, including anonymous tax filings, between the years 1999-2013, and measured access rates—the percent of student enrollment from the bottom fifth of earners—and the school’s mobility rate—the number of those students who end up in the top three-fifths of earners.
Ivy League schools like Brown, Princeton, Yale and smaller private schools like Colgate, Bucknell and Tufts all ranked among the top of the list in terms of having more students from the top one percent of earners. Long Beach State, conversely, drew 34 percent of its students from the top 20 percent of household incomes and 11 percent from the bottom 20 percent.
This metric was measured by what quintile of earners the students were raised in from age 15-19 then accounted for the students’ earning at age 32 after attending college. Overall, the study found that schools like the Ivy campuses, which drew a larger percent from the top one percent, had less upward mobility, but schools like Long Beach, which admitted a higher percentage of students from the lowest earning bracket, provided higher rates of upward mobility.
In fact, listed in the study’s upward mobility top 10—campuses with at least 500 students per class and at least 10 percent from the lower fifth of income—were four CSU campuses (Long Beach, San Jose, Pomona, Bakersfield) and the University of California Irvine. The study noted that the campuses being less selective in admission process provides the potential for them to be “engines of upward mobility” especially for those students in low-income families.
“We’ve known about that for years and it’s really great confirmation to hear that from this study,” said CSULB Provost Brian Jersky. “I think the public in general knows that a university education is a ticket to upward social mobility, I really do think people know this. So it’s awesome that this has come out at this time. The figures that we know or the studies that we know show that people benefit from a university education.”
Long Beach City College ranked 62nd overall out of nearly 700 two-year colleges in overall mobility, moving 26 percent of its students two or more income quintiles, with over 11 percent of its students going on to the top 10 percent of earners. Those marks were good enough to place it among the highest in the state and nation as a whole.
The findings of the report come on the heels of a different study put together by two economists at the University of Massachusetts in Boston who found the opposite was true, that upward mobility in America was on the decline and the likelihood of someone stagnating at the point in life at which they started had increased.
In an interview with The Atlantic, one of the paper’s authors, Michael D. Carr, said that no matter a person’s educational background “the general amount of movement around the distribution has decreased by a statistically significant amount.”
Their study focused on approximately the same window of time as the upward mobility study (1981-2008) and focused on Census Bureau income survey data. That evidence may point to the contrary and college education could actually be a propellant out of poverty is certainly good news for those choosing to invest in a college education.
A snapshot of Cal State Long Beach showed that the median income for former students was about $48,800, good enough to rank it as one of the highest marks for California campuses.
A quarter of Long Beach students were found to have jumped two or more income quintiles and over four percent of students moved from the bottom fifth of earners to the top fifth. The percentage of students that ended up in the top 20 percent of earners was 41 percent and the average income percentile for both poor (64th percentile) and rich students (66th percentile) was nearly identical.
These marks ranked Long Beach not only among the top campuses in the state, but also among the best of all selective public colleges.
This was perhaps one of the most intriguing findings of the study. It noted that any college, whether it be an elite private school or a less selective public university, was good for upward mobility. The authors found that college successfully “leveled the playing field” for all enrolled students despite socioeconomic backgrounds.
It also noted that low-income students were not “over-placed” when admitted to elite universities as their earning potential was about the same as their peers after attendance. However, the study also found that no campus in the country currently produces a high rate of “upper-tail” success—top one percent of earners—while providing large amounts of access to low-income students.
While the study’s authors distanced themselves from trying to craft policy, they suggested that it may be more beneficial for campuses with high-mobility rates, like the five California schools and others found to have success in moving students out of poverty, to increase access for low-income families.
However, those schools are often subject to public funding, and in the case of the CSU and UC this year, cuts in that public funding which led the study’s authors to add that “the colleges that may have offered many low-income students pathways to success are becoming less accessible to them.”
The study, and its suggestions, come at a sensitive time for educators, especially those in California where the state’s budget was recently revealed to have less funding for education than requested by individual institutions like the CSU and the UC.
The CSU, which asked for $343.7 million more in funding over last year, was notified that it would only receive a $185 million increase over the previous year. Jersky said that the university understands the constraints of the budget but added that it would be helpful for a long-term compact between the state and the CSU to be made so that educators could have a broader view of what their budget looks like. Education, he said, is not done on an annual basis, adding that Long Beach is already thinking of the students that will be graduating in 2025.
Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley and CSU Chancellor Timothy White took varying stances in being critical of the funding, with both hinting that the level of funding unveiled would make it more difficult to meet the state’s goal of one million graduates by 2025. If the funding is not increased and campuses are forced to raise tuition, it could shrink access to low-income families that might already find the current cost of attendance on the fence of being affordable.
The current cost of attending Cal State Long Beach for a full-time student is $3,226 per semester and $2,077 per semester for part time students.
Although divestment in public education has been a national trend Californian legislators have largely shielded public institutions like Long Beach from its impact. The state’s divestment into public education is one of the lowest in the country with a three percent decline since 2008. The national average was 18 percent and states like Arizona (-56 percent) and Illinois (-54 percent) have seen more dramatic dips in public funding.
Still, Jersky said, conversations have been had on what to do with tuitions at Long Beach if the state’s budget continues to lag behind what the CSU identifies as its need for each school year and tuition hikes could be on the horizon.
“Nobody wants to do that, it’s just Plan B if we can’t provide access to all the people that want to come here in other ways,” Jersky said. “We’re facing a tuition increase, which as far as I know, nobody wants, but the only other alternative is to move in a direction that’s even worse which is to say, in the face of reports like this ‘well, sorry, the state can’t provide you with a higher education because you don’t have the money for it.’"