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Social Mobility: A Vital Cause

Old Dominion University recently held a conference that tackled an issue that we've worked on for a while and has recently gained traction across the country.

In higher education, it's called "social mobility." In plain terms, it means ensuring that the American dream is within everyone's grasp.

The idea is that a college education can significantly improve the standard of living of a student from a low-income background and establish a positive trajectory for generations to come.

The trouble is that too few of those students are entering college and staying until they graduate.

In June, about 50 higher education leaders and student advocates from institutions including Georgia Southern, Florida Atlantic, Coastal Carolina and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock gathered at Old Dominion for our first Social Mobility Symposium. Over two days, the participants shared strategies and success stories to help catapult more students to the graduation finish line.

The speakers included Tyrone Bledsoe, CEO of the Student African American Brotherhood, also known as Brother 2 Brother; Robert Morse, chief data strategist for U.S. News & World Report; Scott Jaschik, editor and founder of Inside Higher Ed, and Jim Wolfston, president and CEO of CollegeNET Inc.

CollegeNET has created a Social Mobility Index that ranks colleges on factors such as access, affordability and graduation. Old Dominion sits in the top 15 percent of institutions - No. 188 out of 1,363. The organization Education Trust - whose vice president of education policy and practice, Wil Del Pilar, also spoke at the conference - ranks Old Dominion among the top 15 U.S. universities for its track record in graduating African-American students.

The symposium showcased some of the ingredients of our success, including such programs as Brother 2 Brother, which brings together underrepresented males, and Mane Connect, which provides one-on-one coaching sessions every other week for some freshmen. Montae Taylor, a senior who is vice president of ODU's Brother 2 Brother chapter, told symposium participants he sought out free tutoring as well as study partners in the extracurricular groups he belonged to.

I'm proud of our work across the University to enhance social mobility at Old Dominion. We're committed to intensifying our efforts to make the American dream attainable for more people. Maybe no less important, we're going to follow up this symposium to take a leadership role among U.S. universities in identifying the best strategies to expand social mobility across the country.

It's too important an issue to ignore. Lifting more people with a college degree lifts our region and nation, as well.