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NIU: Leader in Research, Social Mobility

August 2nd, 2017

Northern Illinois University is among a select group of the nation’s public universities cited for simultaneously producing important research while also extending social-mobility opportunities to students from low-income households, according to a new report from The Brookings Institution.

In the report titled, “Ladders, labs, or laggards? Which public universities contribute most,” authors Dimitrios Halikias and Richard V. Reeves say a good case can be made for public support of universities that act as either ladders for social mobility, making for a fairer society, or laboratories for research, expanding knowledge to improve the welfare of the broader population.

Their study evaluated 342 public four-year universities and identified which institutions serve as “ladders” or “labs.” Additionally, 70 public institutions, including NIU, were categorized as “leaders” in both research and social-mobility objectives.

NIU ranked 58th on the leaderboard. One other state public institution, the University of Illinois system, also was identified as a leader, coming in at No. 61.

The report specifically focused on research and social mobility, calling those criteria “the two most celebrated purposes of the American public university system.”

“Combining the two datasets allows us to estimate the share of America’s selective public four-year universities that succeed in promoting opportunity, producing research, both or neither,” the authors said in their report.

Just 20 percent of the universities studied managed to accomplish both objectives — to be both ladders and labs.

“This recognition highlights exactly what distinguishes NIU from other universities in Illinois and elsewhere — our commitment to providing students from all walks of life with a higher education experience that engages them in knowledge creation,” NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman said. “The university’s combined emphasis on opportunity and innovation maximizes NIU’s long-term, positive impact on our graduates, on their families and communities, and on our regional economy.”

At NIU, 5.4 percent of students come from families with income levels from the bottom quintile, according to Brookings. NIU’s median student family income was reported as $97,700.

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.