Thirty six companies attended the Northern Illinois University College of Engineering & Engineering Technology job fair on October 23, seeking skilled labor to fill positions in this high-demand field. NIU graduates from across the university find themselves in demand, and it is not going unnoticed, yielding national recognition for NIU in terms of social mobility.
In fact, NIU is ranked 30th in the nation in a new data-driven ranking system that compares higher education institutions according to how well their students advance into good careers. The Social Mobility Index (SMI) compares the performance of colleges and universities across the nation in efficiently graduating students from low-income economic backgrounds into promising careers.
“At NIU, we call this student career success, and it’s our keystone goal,” says NIU President Doug Baker. “Students investing in an NIU education are committed to achieving fulfilling careers and being responsible citizens in our rapidly changing world, and we want to empower them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.”
The SMI is a project of CollegeNet, a company that provides internet-based services for higher education such as tuition processing and web admissions, and online salary data and compensation software provider PayScale.
CollegeNet CEO Jim Wolfston—commenting on the state of higher education in America—says, “Over the past 30 years, as the prospect of college has turned into an expensive gamble for ordinary citizens, we have slipped from number three in college graduation rate to number 13 among developed nations. That doesn’t cut it in an age where economic competitiveness depends upon skill development…Fortunately, some colleges are getting it right; the SMI exists to highlight their contribution and example.”
The new ranking assigns a score to 539 institutions across the country based on five variables: tuition; the percentage of students whose families are below the United States median income; graduation rate; reported salary within five years of graduation; and school endowment. The first three variables have the highest weight; the last one the smallest weight.
Unlike other rankings that assign percentages to variables and then sum for a score, the SMI variables are mathematically balanced against live data so that they fall into three weighting tiers: tuition and economic disadvantage at the highest tier (access); graduation rate and early career salary at the next, half-weight tier (outcome); and the endowment at a half again, or 1/4 weight tier (institutional capability).
“The SMI rankings clearly show that colleges and universities can be part of improving both economic opportunity and social stability in our country,” says Lydia Frank, editorial director at PayScale.
“Our goal is to provide our students with a broad-based education and enriching student experience tailored to their passions, ensuring their timely degree completion and success in securing employment in their field of interest or graduate school enrollment within six months of graduation if they choose,” Baker adds, noting the importance of connecting students, academics and the world though teaching, research and engagement. “The SMI rank affirms we are headed in the right direction in that regard.”