Ranked among the top 20 schools on CollegeNET’s Social Mobility Index for four consecutive years (2014-2017) and a 2017 winner of CollegeNET’s Social Mobility Innovator Award, Winston-Salem State University has created the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM), which will engage faculty and students in studying barriers to economic mobility in the surrounding, low-income communities of East Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Children from low-income families in Forsyth County are less likely to move up the income ladder as adults, compared to similar populations almost anywhere else in the United States, according to a study by Stanford University economist Raj Chetty.
CSEM will blend multidisciplinary faculty research, undergraduate student scholarship and participation as well as community outreach. It is funded by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s Center for Advancing Opportunity, an initiative supported by The Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries.
“The new Center for the Study of Economic Mobility is deeply reflective of our sustained commitment and connection to the communities surrounding our campus,” says Dr. Elwood L. Robinson, Chancellor at Winston-Salem State. “Our strategic plan focuses on social and economic justice and healthcare disparities. We want to do everything we can to advance economic opportunity and to help restore the promise of the American Dream. If we’re successful, Winston-Salem could become a blueprint for communities around the country.”
Adds Jim Wolfston, CEO of CollegeNET: “Winston-Salem State is on the frontier of advancing economic mobility. This new program is a key innovation because it promises to extend the reach of economic advancement efforts beyond the campus population into the community.”
Pioneering Academic Research and Pragmatic Policy Solutions
CSEM will pull from the talents of Winston-Salem State’s faculty and students to develop pioneering research and pragmatic policies that are economically and socially enriching for community residents, businesses and local government. This means examining bold and innovative ideas for improving job opportunities, profits and the property tax base.
To get started, the school recently awarded grants to four faculty / student research projects in five academic disciplines. The grant recipients, who will complete their projects by summer 2018, include:
- Dr. Michelle K. Lewis, Associate Professor of Psychology and Co-Chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences, who will study whether optimal decision-making and motivation are compromised by poverty in Forsyth County.
- Dr. Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, Professor of Economics, who will investigate changing industrial and occupational structures in Forsyth County.
- Dr. Alice Etim, Associate Professor of Management Information Systems and Interim Chair of the Department of Accounting and Management Information Systems, and
- Dr. James Etim, Professor of Education, who will explore the impact of education, information and community technology on socioeconomic status in Forsyth County.
- Dr. Greg Taylor, Associate Professor of Business Analytics, who will assess the impact of the local bankruptcy system on economic mobility in Forsyth County.
“We’re trying to be strategic and interdisciplinary,” says Dr. Craig Richardson, Professor of Economics and Director of CSEM. “And we’re asking professors in psychology, business, education, economics and information systems to help us understand the impediments to moving up and out of poverty. What’s keeping people back? Where are the broken rungs of the ladder? We need to find answers after asking the hard questions, because it’s very expensive to be poor, and people who are poor have an incredible lack of leverage in our society.”
Jennifer Wider, Executive Director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, reinforces this approach. “We’re funding the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility,” she explains, “because it’s looking for new or hidden truths for the root causes, when it comes to individuals struggling in fragile communities.”
Creating Affordable Housing and Removing Health Disparities
CSEM is only part of Winston-Salem State’s ongoing efforts to boost economic mobility in Forsyth County.
Under the leadership of Melicia Whitt-Glover, Director of the WSSU-based Center of Excellence for the Elimination of Healthcare Disparities (CEEHD), the school recently received a research grant to run a model diabetes prevention program for high-risk, low-income communities. Winston-Salem State’s mobile health unit is also expanding its services in the nearby East Winston-Salem neighborhood.
In addition, the S.G. Atkins Community Development Corp., a non-profit organization founded by the university, is providing leadership to revitalize the neighborhoods surrounding WSSU, creating affordable housing and supporting economic and business development.
“We have a growing number of programs focused on economic mobility at Winston-Salem State,” concludes Alvin Atkinson, Associate Director of CSEM. “But we want everything we do to have a real and measurable impact on the people in our immediate community.”