Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD
America’s economic pre-eminence is built on a history of scientific and technological breakthroughs, and the key role of higher education in driving innovation is indisputable.
The discoveries that make us great rest in turn on the cultivation and empowerment of young minds — the dazzling talents that have traditionally emerged from all national, ethnic and class backgrounds.
Yet this key component of the American Dream may be at risk. Today, according to the Financial Times, 25-to-34-year-olds in the United States are no better educated than 55-to-64-year-olds. This is true of no other high-income country and reflects the transmission of educational disadvantages across generations.
A 2014 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study, “Focus on Inequality and Growth,” documented alarming trends in economic inequality and concluded starkly: “When income inequality rises, economic growth falls. One reason is that poorer members of society are less able to invest in their education. Tackling inequality can make our societies fairer and our economies stronger.”
A critical challenge for our society lies within this nexus between education and income — and at Stony Brook, I’m proud to say, we’re demonstrably doing something about it.
According to a new study led by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, a Stony Brook University education provides a proven path toward upward mobility for students from low-income households.
Titled “Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility,” the report ranks Stony Brook among the top 10 colleges and universities in the nation whose students begin college at the bottom fifth of income distribution and then go on to earn in the top three-fifths of income distribution.
The study is a striking confirmation of Stony Brook’s unique strengths as an engine of social mobility. We admit the best and brightest students, regardless of economic status, and give them the top-flight education and support they need for success.
In short, at Stony Brook we’re doing our share — indeed, far beyond our share — to tackle economic polarization. Every day, as we pursue academic excellence, we are helping to fuel the innovation, growth and social cohesion on which America’s future relies.
The central importance of social mobility to our University is reflected throughout this issue, from the inspiring journeys of students Shane Ford and Danielle Meyers, to the remarkable career trajectory of alumnus Bergre Escorbores. Our commitment to facilitating just and welcoming immigration policies, too, is intertwined with the social aspects of Stony Brook’s mission.
Meanwhile, the continuing excellence of our cutting-edge research bears witness to the success of our model. I am confident that our exceptionally diverse and talented student body will join the next generation of game-changing researchers and entrepreneurs, equaling and perhaps surpassing the accomplishments of pioneers like Jonathan Oringer, Eckard Wimmer and Yusuf Hannun.
Actor and philanthropist Michael J. Fox, who addressed the Class of 2017 at our May Commencement, might have been reading my thoughts when he said: “You represent a world of endless possibilities. Among you may be the first human to walk on Mars, the engineer who will revolutionize the world’s energy technology, the next great investigative journalist who exposes corruption, or the groundbreaking scientist who discovers the cure for Parkinson’s.”
That’s why our doors will always stand open to the intellect and energy that promise to transform our world. Where each of us comes from is irrelevant. At Stony Brook, it’s all about where we’re going.