Story Social Mobility

CSU Scores High for Social Mobility in 2023 College Rankings

Alex Beall

Originally published ​9/27/2023

The California State University once again earned top marks for empowering students and promoting upward mobility.

​Photo courtesy of Matt Brown/CSU Dominguez Hills


Story Update January 3, 2024

In December, CollegeNET released its 2023 “Social Mobility Index​” (SMI), which ranks colleges and universities on their affordability, enrolling students from low-income backgrounds, graduating students into good paying jobs and messaging around advancing social mobility.

CSU Dominguez Hills captured the top spot in the 2023 SMI, with eight other CSUs ranking in the top 20: Cal Poly Pomona (3), Cal State Long Beach (7), Cal State LA (8), CSUN (9), CSU Channel Islands (13), Fresno State (14), CSU San Marcos (16) and Sacramento State (20).

“Our university's stellar performance on the 'Social Mobility Index' is a testament to both the academic and co-curricular mission of the Dominguez Hills campus, and the dedication and commitment of our faculty and staff," CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham said in a university article.

“We don't judge our worth by selectivity ratios, but rather by how many lives we can positively impact," he continues. “Topping this list confirms that we are indeed transforming lives and communities here at CSUDH. Our efforts continue to yield dividends years after students graduate—the education they receive here changes the economic and social trajectory of their lives and their families. I could not be more proud of this ranki​ng."

Original Story September 27, 2023

As the largest system of four-year higher education in the country with 23 universities spanning San Diego to Humboldt, the California State University is a force for transforming the lives of its students and their communities. This year's national college rankings demonstrate the power of the CSU to uplift its students and drive upward mobility.

“The CSU’s students represent the new majority of America—the first-generation, the low-income, the students of color, the adults—and we educate them not only so that they can succeed professionally, but so that they will be educated citizens in our democracy, go out into the community, be leaders and thrive in a global world,” Chancellor-select Mildred García said during her July 2023 introductory remarks to the CSU Board of Trustees. “They obtain their careers because of the CSU, and the CSU provides them with the social and economic independence that we all aspire to."

This year, five CSUs earned top spots among national universities promoting social mobility in​ U.S. News & World Report's 2024 Best Colleges Rankings, with Cal State Long Beach taking the first slot. Other CSUs in the top 10 included Cal State Fullerton (2, tie), Cal State San Bernardino (4, tie), Fresno State (8, tie) and San Francisco State (8, tie). These social mobility rankings measure how well universities empower students, namely those who are first-generation or receive Pell Grants, to improve their socioeconomic status.

“This distinction points to the life-changing power of a Beach education, especially for an institution where more than half of our undergraduates are first-generation students," CSULB President Jane Close C​onoley said in a press release. “As we continue to maximize opportunity for all students, we take great pride in the success of our alumni and their ability to positively impact their communities."

U.S. News & World Report also ranked CSU Monterey Bay (2), Stanislaus State (3), Cal Poly Pomona (4), CSU Channel Islands (7, tie), Cal State LA (7, tie) and San José State (7, tie) among the top 10 regional universities in th​​e West promoting social mobility​.

In addition, the criteria for the U.S. News & World Report general rankings were reworked this year to place a greater emphasis on social mobility, which caused CSUs to significantly improve their standings within the overall best universities rankings. For example, Frenso State’s ranking improved by 64 spots, San Francisco State’s by 55, Cal State Long Beach’s by 32, and Cal State Fullerton’s by 32.

The Wall Street Journal and College Pulse also recently released their 2024​ Social Mobility Rankings, with nine CSUs ranking in the top 20: Cal State LA (1), CSUN (5), Fresno State (6), Sacramento State (10), Cal Poly Pomona (11), Cal State Long Beach (14), CSU Monterey Bay (15), CSU San Marcos (17) and San Francisco State (19). These rankings take into account a university's affordability, graduation rates, number of students who come from low-income backgrounds and impact on post-graduation salaries.

Similarly, the Economic Mobility Index from thinktank Third Way, which was first introduced in 2022, assesses universities on the proportion of their students who come from low-income backgrounds and the quality of education they provide to those students. The 2023 Economic Mobility Index scores eight CSUs in the top 20 best performing universities: Cal State LA (2), Cal State San Bernardino (3), CSU Dominguez Hills (4), CSU Bakersfield (8), Stanislaus State (9), Fresno State (10), CSUN (15) and Sacramento State (18).

The CSU likewise dominated the top 20 spots on Education Reform Now's 2023 Social Mobility Elevator Rankings, with Cal State LA coming in first. The other CSUs in the top 20 are CSUN (4), Cal State San Bernardino (5), Fresno State (6), CSU Dominguez Hills (7), Cal State Fullerton (8), Sacramento State (9), Cal State Long Beach (10), Cal Poly Pomona (11), Stanislaus State (13), San Francisco State (19) and CSU Bakersfield (20).

As shown in these rankings, the CSU remains committed to providing a quality education to all students and helping them achieve upward mobility. Since its inception in 2015, ​Graduation Initiative 2025 has helped bring the university's graduation rates to all-time highs. And, to ensure all students no matter their backgrounds are on a sure path to graduation, the CSU introduced five GI2025 priorities to close opportunity gaps.

But behind these rankings are the stories of the CSU students and alumni who have built a better life for themselves and their families on the foundation of a CSU education.

A biology degree from Cal State San Bernardino is life-changing for recent graduate Ally Bledsoe, a first-generation college student. During her first two years at CSUSB, she worked four jobs to pay for school and help her mother pay the bills as well as cared for her grandmother with dementia. Receiving the Inland Empire Community Foundation's S.L. Gimbel Foundation Scholarship—created for low-income students enrolled at​ certain CSUs and valuing $10,000—twice allowed her to save for her future medical school plans. But she still woke up at 3:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays to catch the 5:20 a.m. bus to campus.

“I breathe education. I breathe my major. I need it," Bledsoe said of pursuing her degree in a CSUSB article. “I knew education was the only way out for my mother and I."

Bledsoe graduated in May 2023 and is on track to becoming a pediatric oncologist. She hopes to open the Coachella Valley's first pediatric canc​er clinic.

​​See more rankings and accolades recognizing the CSU.

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