5 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Comprehensive Universities’ — The Schools Educating Over 70% Of 4-Year Undergrads That Have Become A Vital Pipeline Into The Middle Class

5 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Comprehensive Universities’ — the Schools Educating Over 70% of 4-Year Undergrads That Have Become a Vital Pipeline Into the Middle Class

Jorge Klor de Alva, an experienced educator who has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, as well as serving as president of the University of Phoenix, has shifted his focus to comprehensive universities in his latest study as the head of the Nexus Research and Policy Center. Comprehensive universities, which often fly under the radar, enroll a significant majority (70 percent) of students pursuing bachelor’s degrees at public universities. These universities are characterized by their emphasis on educating students from the local community for jobs in the local economy.

In his study, titled "Is the University Next Door the Way to Upward Mobility?", Klor de Alva investigated why certain low-income students who graduate from comprehensive universities are more likely to achieve upward mobility compared to their peers at other comprehensive universities. The study, published by the American Enterprise Institute, yielded positive results, revealing that over half of the low-income students at the 307 comprehensive universities studied were able to move into the middle and upper class by their early 30s. However, Klor de Alva also discovered significant disparities in upward mobility among these universities.

Here are five key takeaways from the study:

1. The American Dream is still alive: Many comprehensive universities are actively contributing to upward mobility for low-income students, despite operating under the radar. Klor de Alva highlights the example of California State University, Los Angeles, a comprehensive university, which provides meaningful opportunities for its students compared to the more well-known University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

2. Similar universities yield different outcomes: Surprisingly, universities with seemingly similar characteristics can produce vastly different outcomes. For instance, The Citadel Military College of South Carolina and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff are both comprehensive universities in the southeastern United States, with similar student populations and acceptance rates. However, the percentage of low-income students from the bottom two income quintiles who reach the top two quintiles varies significantly between the two universities, with only 30 percent achieving upward mobility at Pine Bluff compared to 73 percent at The Citadel.

3. Graduation rates, geography, and race play significant roles: The key factor that sets universities apart in terms of upward mobility for low-income students is their graduation rates. While this may not come as a surprise, Klor de Alva emphasizes the importance of context. Many students are limited by resources and can only attend the nearest college, even if it may not have the highest graduation rate or be the best fit. Therefore, comprehensive universities must prioritize retention, progression, and completion to effectively serve their students.

Klor de Alva’s study also revealed notable geographical disparities among comprehensive universities. The West region boasted a higher proportion (47 percent) of institutions in the highest quartile of adjusted mobility rates, compared to the Northeast (38 percent), Southwest (21 percent), Southeast (14 percent), and Midwest (16 percent). Furthermore, the universities that were most successful in promoting upward mobility had lower percentages of black students and higher percentages of Latino students. Klor de Alva suggests that this finding may be partially explained by the fact that historically black colleges and universities, concentrated in regions like the Southeast, often face limited economic opportunities for their graduates.

In summary, Klor de Alva’s study sheds light on the positive impact many comprehensive universities have on upward mobility for low-income students. It also highlights the disparities that exist among these institutions, emphasizing the importance of graduation rates, geography, and race in determining the level of upward mobility achieved by students.

4 Funding and acceptance rates are not the ultimate measures of a school’s reputation. When it comes to determining the prestige of a school, people often pay a lot of attention to its funding and acceptance rates. A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal exclaimed, "Many Top Colleges Report Record-Low Acceptance Rates," highlighting Harvard University’s acceptance rate of only 4.5%.

However, Klor de Alva’s research suggests that these factors are relatively insignificant when it comes to promoting upward mobility among low-income students. For example, there can be significant differences in outcomes between similarly competitive schools and similarly funded schools.

Klor de Alva wrote, "The top 10 schools, which have twice the adjusted mobility rates of the bottom 10, on average spend nearly the same amount on instructional costs ($7,800 versus $9,000) and core costs ($18,000 versus $19,700)."

(It’s important to note that Klor de Alva did not include the smallest colleges in his analysis because he believes their funding per student skews the statistics, even though those students tend to have lower mobility rates.)

5 Effective management is crucial. As a former higher education administrator, Klor de Alva emphasizes the importance of institutional leadership in driving positive outcomes.

"There are clear differences in performance among similarly situated schools, and good management can play a significant role in improving these outcomes," he said. "It’s evident that management is a critical issue in this context."

Klor de Alva suggests that one way to improve management is through an overhaul of the Higher Education Act by Congress. He suggests that linking federal subsidies provided to colleges to their graduation rates could incentivize college administrators to better support their students and ensure they successfully complete their programs.

"I believe that there is a shared responsibility among students, their families, and the schools to ensure that students reach the finish line," Klor de Alva added. "Everyone involved should be fully focused on this goal."

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  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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