Berkeley among top U.S. universities for upward mobility

A new upward mobility report card for U.S. colleges and universities reveals high rankings for California schools, from community colleges to the University of California, including UC Berkeley.

The report card researchers, whose work is covered in detail in the New York Times’  The Upshot blog today, say the results may guide efforts to further increase upward mobility through higher education, expand access to the mid-tier, high-mobility colleges and enhance efforts to expand outreach to students in middle and elementary schools.

Emmanuel Saez, Danny Yagan

Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Danny Yagan (UC Berkeley photos)

The report is based on publicly available statistics for all students ages 18-22 enrolled in each college from 1999 to 2013, including the students’ earnings while in their early 30s and their parents’ incomes. Upward mobility rates are determined by the fraction of an institution’s students who come from families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution and end up in the top fifth.

Two UC Berkeley economists, Danny Yagan and Emmanuel Saez, are among the authors of the Equality of Opportunity Project’s report card. They worked alongside economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and John N. Friedman of Brown University and with Nicholas Turner of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Highlights of their research on California include:

  • When U.S. News and World Report’s best-50 colleges are ranked by upward mobility, the top five schools are UC schools.
  • UC Berkeley is the top-ranked college in the nation, according to upper-tail upward mobility: it has the largest fraction of students who come from families in the bottom fifth and end up having earnings in the 1 percent among colleges with at least 500 students per cohort.
  • UC Berkeley and UCLA are the No. 1 and No. 2 colleges in the nation in terms of the number of students who come from families in the bottom fifth and end up having earnings in the top 1 percent.
  • California State University Los Angeles is the top-ranked college in the nation based on upward mobility.
  • Glendale Community College in L.A. County is the No. 7-ranked college, according to upward mobility.

In addition to the key points listed above, the report card:

  • Challenges the perception that colleges foster interaction between children from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Access to colleges varies substantially across the income distribution, with the degree of income segregation across colleges comparable to income segregation across neighborhoods in the average U.S. city.
  • Finds that students at any given college from low- and high-income families have similar earnings outcomes, suggesting that students from low-income families who are admitted to selective colleges are not “over-placed,” and colleges aren’t burdened financially in terms of student outcomes for any affirmative action granted in admissions to low-income students.
  • Finds that the colleges channeling the most children from low- or middle-income families to the top 1 percent are almost exclusively highly selective institutions, such as UC Berkeley and “Ivy-plus” colleges (the Ivy League schools, University of Chicago, Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University), where 13 percent of students from the bottom fifth reach the top 1 percent.
  • Finds that since 2000, the fraction of students from low-income families at the Ivy-plus colleges barely increased, while access at institutions with the highest mobility rates – such as UC Berkeley and the State University of New York at Stony Brook — fell sharply.
  • Highlights that schools such as Cal State L.A., the University of Texas-El Paso and Glendale Community College may be instructive in that they boast high mobility rates while not being especially selective.

The research that led to the mobility report card was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Center for Equitable Growth at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.