Sunday, February 5, 2017

ISU can be proud of how it helps students succeed

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 5 February 2017

In a Sunday Review in the Jan. 18 New York Times, titled “America’s Working Class Colleges,” I learned of an effort to rank “all” of America’s colleges and universities by how much mobility flows from them for working class students, measured by their parents’ household incomes. Working class students are those students who come from a household in the bottom 20 percent of the household income distribution. The study comes from The Equality of Opportunity Project ( And, in a true spirit of scholarship, they share their data. I downloaded it to examine Indiana colleges and universities. This is a working class state, so how do we do at helping those students achieve economic mobility?
I was able to find 10 four-year Indiana colleges and universities and two two-year universities. Not all Indiana colleges were listed; Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and Marian University were not listed.
I was, of course, interested in how well ISU did, because ISU, as long as I have been here, (into my 31st) year, has had the reputation of a “blue-collar university.”
The data is highly quantitative and perhaps this essay will prompt the Trib-Star to look into the report and create some easy-to-understand charts from the data, but such graphics are not the “stuff” of the opinion pages.
Data were taken from students who graduated between 1980 and 1991 and then their individual incomes between the ages of 32-34. One measure is median household income of all students during the study time period. ISU ranks last among the four-years and third when VU and IVTCC are added. ISU’s median student family income was $82,600 while the highest family income is Notre Dame at $165,400 twice as much as ISU.
Ranking median student individual earnings at age 32-34, ISU ranks ninth of the 12 institutions at $37,800. The lowest was IVTCC at $25,900 and the highest is $83,600 at Rose-Hulman.
What proportion of the institutions’ student body comes from low-income households? Not surprisingly, the two-year schools have the highest proportion but among the four-year schools, ISU is number one at 6.7 percent. The lowest proportion is Notre Dame at 1.4 percent. Certainly these numbers confirm ISU’s reputation as Indiana’s four-year working class institution.
Just for fun we can examine the share of students who come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution. ISU ranks last, at 0.5 percent, among the four-years and is very similar to the two-years with 0.3 percent. Running away from the field, at 11.0 percent, is Notre Dame.
Also, we can infer an institution’s de facto mission by looking at the change in percent of students admitted from the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Six of the 10 four-year schools decreased the proportion of students admitted from the bottom 40 percent, three were essentially unchanged, but ISU increased its share as did the two-year schools.
The key measure, according to the “Equality of Opportunity Project” is the “mobility rate,” the percent of children who come from the bottom 20 percent and reach the top 20 percent of the income distribution. Here, ISU is tied at third, at 1.1 percent, among the dozen Indiana institutions. The highest is Rose-Hulman at 2.2 and the lowest, USI, at 0.6 percent.
Those who work at ISU, I hope, can take some pride in this accomplishment. I do. However, the working-class university that ranks number one in the U.S., at 9.9 percent in the mobility rate, is California State University at Los Angeles. The U.S. average is 1.7 percent. Only two Indiana colleges are at the national average or above. VU reaches that U.S. average mark of 1.7, and Rose-Hulman exceeds it at 2.2 percent. Indiana’s average, based on my calculations, is 1.1, so while ISU ranks high in Indiana, it is just average and below average nationally.
Regardless of what anyone might think of the numbers, for those students who come from humble families to experience such mobility in a short period of time, 10 years, is a significant and life-changing impact in their material existence. Many who work at universities, especially the faculty, hope they have a positive impact on their students’ lives. In Indiana, a working-class state, ISU makes a difference for working-class students. 
Personally, I’d like to see more of our efforts couched in these terms and use metrics like this to demonstrate our success.
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