An Upward-Mobility Machine

Click here to view the College Scorecard for UC San Diego. (via U.S. Department of Education)


The University of California is a good investment, not only for students and their families, but for the state and federal government. This is according to the Department of Education, which recently released its first College Scorecard, a value ranking that gave high marks to UC San Diego, as well as its sister campuses throughout California. All 10 UC campuses excelled in areas that included tuition, graduation rates and student debt levels.

The new Scorecard was created to offer “clear, reliable open data on college affordability and value,” said President Barack Obama in a September 2015 weekly address. Calling for the nation’s colleges to “focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll,” the president also emphasized the importance of higher education to the country’s economic future and praised the “colleges dedicated to helping students of all backgrounds learn without saddling them with debt.”

One such student is UC San Diego freshman Felipe Soltero, who wanted to go to college but lacked the means to do so. “I wanted to come to UC San Diego, but I had no idea how I would pay,” he says.

That all changed when Soltero learned he was awarded a Chancellor’s Associates Scholarship, one of the many campus initiatives designed to promote upward social mobility.

When coupled with other forms of financial aid, the Chancellors Associates Scholarship essentially covers all costs associated with a UC San Diego education, including housing as well as course materials.

Soltero also receives the federal Pell Grant, or need-based grants for low-income students. The large number of the university’s economically diverse students recently garnered attention from the New York Times, which named UC San Diego the No. 4 school in the nation in their College Access Index, which measures which universities do the most for lower-income students.

“It is an honor for UC San Diego to continue to be recognized for delivering a world-class education that is accessible and affordable,” says Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “The strength of education is upward mobility and we are dedicated to providing opportunities for all students, from all backgrounds, so they can achieve their goals and ambitions.”

The New York Times announcement came just weeks after UC San Diego was named by Washington Monthly as the No. 1 university in the nation for the sixth consecutive year. The magazine’s annual college rankings measure how universities serve the public interest based on three criteria: social mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and Ph.D.s) and service (encouraging students to give back to their country).


This Way Up

UC San Diego students are upwardly mobile, but what about the rest of the nation? “There is no shortage of proposed strategies to remedy America’s upward mobility problem,” says Lane Kenworthy, director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research. “What we lack, and what policymakers most need, is information about the relative merits of such strategies.”

Supported by a gift from Center founder Daniel Yankelovich, Kenworthy is leading an Upward Mobility Commission to examine existing research and estimate the impact of 25 outlined strategies, ranging from improving infrastructure to expanding access to preschool.

The project strikes a personal chord with its benefactor. “Back when I was a kid, the American Dream was very real for me,” says Yankelovich. “I want us to try to find practical ways, bipartisan ways, of reversing the current trend and bringing back equality of opportunity.”

Kenworthy’s goal is to steer the national debate in an evidence-based direction. “The shortfall in upward mobility is America’s most important economic problem,” he says. “It is critical we not only talk about it, but also figure out what to do.”

Inga Kiderra