In a report published in mid-January and featured by The New York Times in an interactive data visualization, the Equality of Opportunity Project set out to define and identify rates of upward income mobility in colleges throughout the United States.
The report collected data from students born between 1980 and 1991 meaning students included in this data may have graduated in 2013. The study includes all Title IV colleges and universities — institutions that process and distribute funds through Title IV programs such as federal loans, federal work-study, Pell grants and other federal programs — in the U.S.
Based on the data, there was a report card for every college and university in the U.S., Cal Poly received comparatively poor scores in economic diversity, low income accessibility and upward mobility when compared to other selective public universities in California and nationwide.
CSU income distribution
According to the report, when measured by the amount of enrolled students from families who make $20,000 or less annually, Cal Poly has limited levels of access for low income families when compared to other colleges in California and the U.S. To explain, if there was perfect economic equality and high levels of low income access, students from the bottom 20 percent of incomes would make up approximately 20 percent of the university’s student population.
With only 3.1 percent of its students coming from families in this income category — well below the California State University (CSU) System average of 10.27 percent for 2013 — Cal Poly ranked last in low income access when compared to public universities in California and 176th out of 182 when compared to all colleges in California.
Nationwide, Cal Poly ranked 2,259th out of 2,395 in low income student population when compared to all colleges in the U.S. and 362nd out of 377 when compared to selective public universities nationwide.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only about 20 percent of Cal Poly students come from households with incomes below $40,000 per year and receive Pell Grants. This is well below the CSU System average of 48 percent of students and the combined CSU and UC system average of 47 percent. Pell grants are financial aid given to students by the federal government to help pay for college. Grants, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid. According to the Department of Education, 72 percent of all Pell Grant recipients had household incomes of $30,000 or below.
Meanwhile, as of 2013, Cal Poly is one of the richest universities in California in terms of parental incomes.
With approximately 67 percent of its class of 2013 coming from families within the top 20 percent — defined as making $110,200 or more annually — Cal Poly has the largest proportion of students within this income bracket among Californian public universities and the third largest among selective public universities nationwide. Harvard and Stanford universities have a comparable proportion of students who are in the top 20 percent of family incomes at 67 percent and 66 percent respectively.
Cal Poly also has the largest proportion of students who are in the top one percent — defined as making $630,000 or more annually — as a CSU and second largest as a Californian public university at four percent of the total student population.
With a median parental income of $152,900, Cal Poly’s students come from the wealthiest upbringings in the CSU and UC systems on average. The second- and third-ranking universities in California in terms of median parental income were Sonoma State University and the California Maritime Academy at $126,400 and $121,600 respectively.
Based on this data, Cal Poly students have higher familial incomes than a number of Ivy League colleges — including Cornell ($151,600) and Columbia ($150,900) — and other elite institutions, such as M.I.T. ($137,400).
Average cost of California universities
These higher student family incomes often end up paying larger amounts of money to Cal Poly. Families from higher incomes typically pay a higher percentage of the listed costs of schooling while financial aid reduces these costs for lower income families. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, a student from a family that makes less than $30,000 is expected to pay approximately $10,611 per year to attend Cal Poly, while a student whose family makes over $110,000 per year pays $23,528.
According to the Department of Education, Cal Poly has the highest average cost of any public four-year university in California when factoring in the amount of financial aid awarded to students. Cal Poly’s average annual cost of $18,047 even beats out a number of Ivy League schools including Harvard ($14,068), Princeton ($7,103) and another elite university Stanford ($14,559).
The study by the Equality of Opportunity Project also shows that Cal Poly graduated students who then had high incomes 10 to 12 years after graduation. With a median student income of $65,500 at the age of 32 to 34 years old, Cal Poly ranks ninth in California and 76th in the nation for graduate incomes.
Further, Cal Poly students in the bottom 20 percent of incomes when they come to the school have a 54 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent of incomes after they graduate. This makes Cal Poly the fifth best selective public university in the nation and the sixth best selective or highly selective public university in California in terms of turning lower income students into upper income professionals.
Despite Cal Poly’s relatively high success rates in terms of student earnings, the report shows that the overall mobility of Cal Poly students is relatively low. This is likely due to restricted access to low income families.
The study combined access rates and success rates into one mobility rate index to more accurately assess and compare economic mobility among universities. The statistic portrays the likelihood that a student’s income would rise two or more quintiles, one quintile meaning a single 20 percentile jump.
Cal Poly scored 19th out of 23 universities in overall mobility within the CSU system and 28th out of 32 for all public four-year universities in California. CSUs that scored worse than Cal Poly in mobility included Humboldt State, Chico State, CSU Channel Islands and Sonoma State.
University mobility rates
Even when compared to public and private universities in California with similar acceptance rates, Cal Poly scores relatively lowly at 133rd out of 161 Californian universities.
Furthermore, Cal Poly ranked 1,564th out of 2,137 in overall mobility among all colleges in the U.S. This places Cal Poly in the bottom 27 percent of colleges nationwide, regardless of being public or private, in terms of income mobility.