The goal of the SMI — now in its third year — is to help redirect the attribution of “prestige” in our higher education system toward colleges and universities that are advancing economic opportunity, the most pressing issue of our time.
A public university with 14,000 undergraduate students, New Jersey-based Rowan is the only institution to be ranked in one of the top three SMI slots from 2014 to 2016.
“Unlike other rankings that are aimed primarily at helping students select a college or university,” says Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET, “the SMI helps policymakers see which colleges and universities are addressing the national problem of economic mobility. Administrators in higher education have a better chance of strengthening US economic mobility and restoring the promise of the American Dream in the 21st century if they can identify and learn from colleges and universities like Rowan that are already skilled at doing this.”
Rowan was selected as CollegeNET’s first Social Mobility Innovator for 2017 because it has developed far-reaching academic programs designed to support low-income students and help them realize the significant economic opportunity a college degree offers.
The driving force behind this achievement has been Rowan’s ability to establish a strong campus-wide culture and ethos that’s based on four strategic pillars — quality, access, affordability and serving as a regional economic engine.
“These pillars reinforce our student-success mindset every day,” says Dr. Rory McElwee, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success at Rowan. “And they bolster the many student-support structures we have in place from top to bottom and all the way across our university. We absolutely refuse to embrace a sink-or-swim mentality for any of our students.”
Adds Dr. Ali A. Houshmand, Rowan’s President: “We’re passionate about getting students from challenging areas and helping them succeed. This is our DNA. It’s what we live and breathe every day. It happens naturally on our campus. And it’s very personal for me. My parents couldn’t read, and I emigrated to this country and benefited from opportunities to move up. Now I want to make sure the same thing happens for Rowan students.”
A New Student Advising Model Boosts Four-Year Graduation Rates
To help improve retention and graduation rates, Rowan began expanding and changing its academic advising model four years ago. Moving to a centralized approach, the university hired 30 additional professional academic advisors and provided each of them with the same training and protocols for proactive intervention.
As a result, 80 percent of all Rowan students now have professional academic advisors, versus 33 percent before the new advising model was rolled out. This has helped boost four-year graduation rates at Rowan. The student cohort of first-time undergraduates that matriculated in 2008 had a 40 percent graduation rate in 2012, for example, compared to a 51 percent rate for the cohort that matriculated in 2012 and graduated in 2016.
Rowan has also deployed technology wisely in order to ensure that students, faculty, advisors, coaches and mentors are all connected and sharing information that’s vital to student advancement.
The collaborative Rowan Success Network, which is currently used by 80 percent of Rowan’s faculty, communicates early-alert concerns for each student. These timely updates allow front-line advisors to proactively intervene when a student is having difficulty handling the demands of a particular course.
Investing in Students to Reverse Higher Education’s Damaging “Tri-Imperfecta”
“We’re very fortunate that an extraordinary university like Rowan has remained focused on providing educational opportunity to promising students regardless of their economic background,” says CollegeNET’s Wolfston.
“And Rowan’s civic contribution as a 2017 Social Mobility Innovator is even more important, given the fact that higher education’s key role in advancing economic mobility and the American Dream is rapidly deteriorating. Indeed, we’re caught in a very damaging ‘tri-imperfecta’ right now. Tuitions are increasing, economic inclusion is declining on campuses, and Pell Grants — intended for disadvantaged students with financial need — are being awarded more generously to richer families.”
Concludes Rowan’s Houshmand: “Our job in higher education today must be investing in young people’s lives. This is our bread and butter, and, if we’re not doing it, then we’re failing. That’s why, of all the college rankings, I think the SMI is most powerful and most relevant. It really tells us whether we’re successfully preparing every student for the 21st century knowledge economy.”
See the complete SMI rankings at www.socialmobilityindex.org.