College rankings: Montclair State shows why social mobility scores may matter more

Koppell: Transformational impact schools can have on 1st-generation students — and their impact on workforce of future — is huge

The release of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings Monday was a Super Bowl-type moment for higher education in New Jersey and around the country — as it is a snapshot of metrics that attempt to determine how schools measure up against each other from an overall perspective.

Jonathan Koppell, the president of Montclair State University, obviously was happy to see his school has jumped in the national rankings, again — it’s up 19 spots to No. 163 in what was a banner day for the state.

Koppell, however, was even more thrilled to see Montclair State ranked No. 7 nationally in social mobility, which measures a school’s ability to educate (and graduate) first-generation and Pell-eligible students.

The reason: These rankings are all about the students.

Social mobility standouts

New Jersey had eight schools rank in the Top 100 nationally by U.S. News for social mobility, which measures a school’s ability to educate — and graduate — those from underserved and disadvantaged communities. A look:

  • No. 7: Montclair State University
  • No. 21 (tie): Rutgers University – Newark
  • No. 26 (tie): Kean University
  • No. 26 (tie): Stockton University
  • No. 35 (tie): Rutgers University – Camden
  • No. 42 (tie): Rutgers University – New Brunswick
  • No. 53 (tie): New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • No. 91 (tie): Rowan University

“This is where universities can have their greatest impact in society,” he said. “When we graduate first-generation students, we often are impacting the trajectory of entire families in a huge way.

“This makes institutions like Montclair State agents of transformation: We are what makes the American Dream possible.”

The U.S. News ranking was the second big honor in recent weeks for Montclair State, which was ranked No. 16 overall in a recent Wall Street Journal social mobility effort.

The good news for New Jersey: Montclair State isn’t the only school making these lists. Six schools from the state made the Top 50 in the U.S. News social mobility ranking — and two more placed in the Top 100.

The impact of that will be felt in a number of ways moving forward, Koppell said.

“Thee’s a whole lot of discussion going on about the economic future of the state, and how do we attract talent and retain talent?” he asked, and then answered. “I can tell you: One way is by supporting institutions that are giving people in New Jersey the opportunity to thrive and excel.”

Let’s be clear on this point, too, Koppell said. This isn’t about simply moving students through the system.

Koppell said the reason Montclair and others are doing well on social mobility scores is because they are doing a whole lot more than just graduating first-generation kids — they are preparing them for the real world. They are preparing them to have real impact in society, which means their degrees will have real impact for their families.

Social mobility standouts II

New Jersey had seven schools rank in the Top 25 of regional universities – North by U.S. News for social mobility, which measures a school’s ability to educate — and graduate — those from underserved and disadvantaged communities. A look:

  • No. 6: Saint Peter’s University
  • No. 11: Saint Elizabeth’s University
  • No. 13 (tie): Caldwell University
  • No. 13 (tie): Fairleigh Dickinson University
  • No. 21 (tie): William Paterson University
  • No. 23 (tie): Centenary University
  • No. 23 (tie): Felician University

“Some people look at social mobility rankings and say, ‘That’s different than quality’ — and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “One of the things I liked about the Wall Street Journal ranking is that they leaned into it and showed how it makes a college transformational.

“We’re not just reinforcing the gaps in achievement that people have coming out of high school, we’re actually having a huge impact on the trajectory of individuals, because we’re providing a high-quality education that’s of great value.

“It’s because they can work in labs, because they’re at a research university that’s doing interesting things and because we have partnerships with companies that provide internships that they’re thriving. And their ability to thrive lifts up the school, because employers know that, when they hire a Montclair State grad, they are getting someone who is well-prepared to succeed.”

All of this is why Koppell takes so much pride in the social mobility ranking.

“The results speak to the value that Montclair is adding for the state,” he said. “It means that students who come here are much more likely to finish a degree here. We’re proud of the fact that we don’t have different outcomes for students who are eligible or not Pell-eligible — the students all roughly succeed at the same rate.

“It shows that it’s just an incredibly good investment to come to Montclair State and get a degree because, a) you’re likely to finish and be given the quality of the education, b) you’re going to find yourself in a very good position when it comes time to get a job, and c) whatever debt you had to take to earn a college degree, if any, will rapidly dispense with given the quality of your education.

“This measures what colleges are supposed to be all about.”