Wichita State University's efforts to recruit and retain students from historically underserved and underrepresented areas rank it in the top 28% of the 2021 Social Mobility Index (SMI).
The 2021 SMI, calculated by CollegeNET Inc., benchmarks 1,549 four-year colleges and universities in the United States according to how effectively they enroll students from low-income backgrounds and graduate them into well-paying jobs.
For institutions such as Wichita State, where 22% of students are from traditionally low-income households, the pandemic underscored the need to support their most vulnerable populations.
“Even before the pandemic hit, Wichita State prioritized making education accessible and affordable to underrepresented populations,” said Dr. Rick Muma, president of Wichita State. “We know that higher education is a means to boost prosperity and increase socioeconomic status. The health and financial distress that arose from COVID-19 underlined systemic and socioeconomic disparities, many of which could be lessened or eliminated through education.”
Wichita State’s strategies to help students includes success coaches, who reach out to first-generation students and students with downward trending grade-point averages. Collaboration with Wichita State’s CARE Team‚ which helps students with health concerns, mental health, academics, financial issues and food insecurity, is also important.
“What this means is that we are not waiting for students to come forward to alert us that they may be struggling in some way,” said Kim Sandlin, director of Student Success. “We are using the technology that we have to reach out to students who show signs of not succeeding academically or personally, based on dozens of factors. This helps us to retain them at higher levels once they are here and reduces some of the negative stigma that comes with asking for help.”
The SMI was founded on the principle that growing disparity in economic opportunity is the most pressing problem of our time, and that higher education is in the strongest position to address it. The SMI seeks to redirect the attribution of prestige away from colleges that are merely wealthy toward those that are advancing U.S. economic opportunity and social mobility.