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How Stony Brook Pays Off its Promise to Transform Lives

Finding ways to enable upward income mobility, one of the defining issues of our time, is a pinnacle of achievement for many institutions of higher learning. Removing the obstacles to a quality education isn’t just a moral mandate for colleges and universities — it’s become a necessity.

Social mobility programs bring results at Stony Brook University.

A Stony Brook University education provides a proven path toward upward income mobility for students from low-income households, according to a new study led by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Entitled Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility, the report ranks Stony Brook among the top 10 colleges and universities in the nation whose students begin college at the bottom fifth of income distribution and then go on to earn in the top three-fifths of income distribution.

According to the study, “51% of students from the bottom quintile reach the top quintile at Stony Brook. Because 16% of students at Stony Brook are from the bottom quintile compared with 4% at the Ivy-Plus colleges, Stony Brook has a bottom-to-top-quintile mobility rate of 8.4%, substantially higher than the 2.2% rate on average at Ivy-Plus colleges.”

Proven Payoffs
The Stanford study provides compelling evidence that Stony Brook’s multi-faceted approach brings results. Researchers tracked 14 years of financial records for college students, aged 18-22, at all public and private U.S. colleges and universities from 1999 through 2013. Using de-identified IRS data, researchers compared the reported earnings of college graduates in their early 30s to their parents’ income during student college years. Researchers examined the percentage of students from each institution and found that Stony Brook’s high mobility rate shows graduates reach high income levels within 10 years of graduation.

In comparison to Columbia University, Stony Brook graduates were shown to have earned incomes “that are nearly comparable” and Stony Brook “has a bottom-to-top-quintile mobility rate of 8.4%, channeling nearly 3 times as many children from the bottom to the top of the income distribution as Columbia.”

“The Stanford study is a striking confirmation of Stony Brook’s unique strengths as an engine of social mobility,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD. “We admit the best and brightest students, regardless of economic status, and give them the top-flight education they need for success.

How do we do it? With initiatives as diverse as the demographic they serve — students in elementary, middle and high school, as well as those at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels — Stony Brook is improving the economic prospects of those who are disadvantaged by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

From EOP/AIM (Educational Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit), a student support program that recruits, enrolls, retains and graduates economically disadvantaged students who have the potential to succeed in college, to numerous initiatives offering financial assistance and academic support, Stony Brook finds ways to help every student achieve his or her potential.

Supporting Students for Success
“Stony Brook offers an environment in which a diverse student body is encouraged to thrive, and a wide array of programs – from EOP/AIM to intensive academic counseling – help to facilitate their success,” Stanley said.

Social mobility
EOP/AIM’s Cheryl Hamilton (left) talks with students at the Summer Pre-Freshman Alumni Reception.

As the students of today become the employees of tomorrow, it will become increasingly important for them to acquire the specialized skills and knowledge needed to meet the heightened demands of the 21st century workplace.

No one knows this better than Cheryl Hamilton, Assistant Provost and Director of EOP/AIM.

“If we are going to have an educated workforce, it is important for Stony Brook as a public research university to make higher education attainable, not just by providing access and admission but also the support that students need to be successful,” said Hamilton, who has been with EOP/AIM for 22 years and director since 2000.

When an EOP/AIM student succeeds academically and moves into the workplace, there is an obvious benefit to the individual, but the local economy also gets a boost.

“The reality is that the students in our program by and large end up staying in New York State and working here, and for every dollar that we invest in them, they’re giving back $10 annually in tax revenue,” Hamilton said.

Many factors come into play when determining an individual’s need for a specific program — family income being just one criterion. First-generation college students, for example, tend to populate programs designed to boost economic and social mobility. At Stony Brook, more than one–third of undergraduates are first-generation college students, according to statistics compiled by the University’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness.

“A lot of students are the first in their families to go to college and by the University’s standards, they’re considered academically disadvantaged, which means that they fall a little bit shy of the criteria for general admission, and that’s largely because of socioeconomic factors,” said Hamilton. “On Long Island, where you live determines where you go to school, so if students are in a high-poverty area in all likelihood they’re attending a school with few resources. For example, there may not be any college preparatory curriculum or AP courses, or maybe there’s one guidance counselor for a thousand students.”

Giving Kids a Brighter Future
Early intervention initiatives, such as Stony Brook’s six-week-long Freedom School, are among the best ways to put young children on the path to a brighter future. But even older disadvantaged students in the community can find ways to thrive through opportunities for enrichment.

Health Careers Academic Readiness and Excellence (HCARE), which operates within the School of Health Technology and Management’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development, is one such program taking on inequality. Serving high-needs students in grades 9 to 12 in the Amityville, Brentwood, William Floyd and Wyandanch school districts, as well as the Sovereign Unkechaug Nation, HCARE targets some of the most ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged students on Long Island. Its primary objective is to provide students with the skills and resources necessary to become part of a more diverse and competitive applicant pool for allied health programs and jobs. This is accomplished through outreach, college preparation assistance and educational programming.

“Long Island is home to residents of tremendous economic privilege, but also to residents who face economic disadvantage,” said HCARE Director Carlos Vidal. “The services we provide through HCARE are designed to address the educational disparities found in Long Island’s districts of highest need, providing students with the skills to succeed academically and pursue higher education.”

Financial Support Is Key
Programs aimed at helping disadvantaged students often require tremendous financial resources. For example, in the University’s Center for Inclusive Education (CIE), established in 2002 with the goal of advancing diversity in graduate education, academia and the scientific workforce, more than $8 million in funding for its seven economic and social mobility programs comes from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and New York State, depending on the initiative.

The seven programs implemented through the CIE are designed to recruit, retain and graduate underrepresented minority and otherwise disadvantaged scholars, particularly those who advance the mission of increasing diversity in their respective fields.

Opening the Door to STEM Careers
Finding meaningful employment is a priority for those who are disadvantaged, but it is also important that students have access to growing fields that pay well, such as careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor, several U.S. industries with the highest mean wages are STEM-related.

math camp
Math Camp at SBU

Preparing students for STEM careers is the primary objective of STEM Smart, which is administered by Stony Brook’s Department of Technology and Society. STEM Smart, which was created in 1986, serves as an umbrella for an array of programs serving approximately 800 economically disadvantaged students from middle school through graduate school.

“We have many students on the Stony Brook campus who are better able to make their way into the research or teaching infrastructures than others,” said David Ferguson, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Department of Technology and Society. “STEM Smart helps students excel in these areas at the pre-college level, so we’re helping them do what is necessary to be prepared to pursue such majors in college should they choose to do so.”

STEM Smart programs develop students’ critical thinking, writing and speaking abilities — attributes that translate well to non-STEM fields.

“The knowledge of STEM can be relevant and applicable to many professions. Especially at the high school level, it’s hard to know where students are going to end up, so we try to build in some flexibility by making STEM an option,” said Ferguson. “It is an area that some students may not have originally considered, but we are helping them to see it as a potential choice.”

STEM Smart and all Stony Brook programs that battle inequality not only provide disadvantaged students with access to opportunity, but also give them a powerful, invaluable tool to take them through life — the confidence to aspire to something better.

“We’re very much interested in motivating students to succeed,” said Ferguson. “It’s been proven that social and economic mobility has a lot to do with connections to various opportunities and the extent to which an environment can facilitate those connections. What are the dimensions of that? How do we help students? What is necessary to create an environment that supports that? That’s what we are trying to do at Stony Brook University.”

CAS Programs
Promoting social and economic mobility takes many forms at Stony Brook University. To be sure, programs such as (EOP/AIM) were created specifically to help students who are economically disadvantaged, yet there are academic divisions on campus offering initiatives serving that same purpose — even though it is not their primary function.

College of Arts and Sciences Pre-College Institute: Jacqueline Pascariello, Director, Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Services instructs high school students on the process of attaining financial aid and scholarships

The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is one such example. Since its formation in the 1990s, CAS has played a major role in Stony Brook’s growing national and international reputation through its humanities and fine arts, life sciences, physical sciences and math, and social and behavioral sciences programs.

“Our goal is to let students know that college is attainable and that we believe in them and their ability to succeed,” said Sacha Kopp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Reaching high school students this way helps them launch their college search process and empowers them to achieve acceptance into a college of their choice.”

With the establishment of its Pre-College Summer Institute — a free weeklong program aimed at high school sophomores and juniors from four high-needs districts — CAS has firmly committed to equalizing opportunities for students who come from low-income families.

Through a series of mini courses, workshops and presentations, students learn about a breadth of disciplines, hone their skills, and experience what it’s like to go to college. They stay in a residence hall, tour the campus and take courses based on their interests from various academic areas, including anthropology, foreign languages and theater, to name a few. The students also attend presentations on financial aid, admissions, study abroad and research opportunities.

A Top Priority
At Stony Brook, facilitating economic mobility is more than an ideal. It’s an array of innovative, targeted programs with proven results.

“Improving access to higher education and minimizing student debt are vital to the role of higher education in economic mobility,” said President Stanley. “Also crucial are programs that ensure that economically disadvantaged students receive the support on campus that they need in order to benefit as fully as possible from a proven engine of economic mobility. I’m proud to say that is a top priority at Stony Brook.”

–Jacob Levich and editors

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