Climbing the socio-economic ladder: FIU graduates go further

FIU Trustee Gerald Grant Jr. ‘78, MBA ‘89

FIU has a tradition of serving first-generation and low-income students who otherwise would not have access to higher education. In fact, more than 50 percent of FIU students receive need-based financial aid. At the same time, FIU graduates have one of the highest median salaries among all Florida State University System graduates.

So it may come as a surprise that in 2017, FIU ranked top in social mobility among public universities in Florida in two important studies: Social Mobility Index (SMI), and The Equality of Opportunity Project, which measure an institution’s role in providing opportunities for graduates to better their economic standing.

“For me, studying at FIU opened the doors to possibilities that I would not have had otherwise,” said College of Business alumnus and FIU Trustee Gerald Grant Jr. ‘78, MBA ‘89. “The opportunity for a good education not only proved to be worth the sacrifice that my parents made when moving to the U.S., but also changed my life and my children’s lives. Every student should be given the fair chance to succeed, no matter their socio-economic background.”

Grant is a prime example of how an FIU degree has propelled a successful career. The Jamaica native began his working life in the U.S. as a dishwasher at a Miami Beach hotel; he worked three jobs while attending college.

Today Grant is Director of Financial Planning of AXA Advisors’ South Florida branch. He is also an author and serves on the FIU Board of Trustees. In 2013, Grant became the first African-American alumnus to give FIU $1 million. With the gift, the school created the Gerald C. Grant Jr. and Jennifer Adger Grant Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships in FIU’s College of Business.

“From day one, FIU has always taken responsibility for our community and embraced our mission to be a stepping stone and help our students achieve their dreams,” said Provost Kenneth G. Furton. “These rankings are a testament of our hard work to be an economic engine, uplift our community and change thousands of lives.”

FIU also does well among national universities when it comes to providing students an opportunity to climb the social ladder: Among institutions that are classified as R1 by Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and are also Ashoka U Changemaker Campuses, FIU had the highest social mobility ranking. In addition, this past summer The Brookings Institution ranked FIU sixth on its list of selective, public, research-generating universities with the highest levels of low-income student enrollment. This makes FIU one of the top universities educating and graduating economically disadvantaged students.

College of Business alumna Raisa Grau ‘06 knows all too well the difficulties of being poor and the difference an FIU education can make. While living in her car, Grau was able to graduate high school at the age of 16. That same year, she moved out of her car and into student housing at FIU, where she began working at a local law firm and attending night classes at FIU. Today, Grau is an Audit Senior Manager in KPMG, one of the top accounting firms in the nation.

“FIU gave me the opportunity to study, and even a place to live,” said Grau, who graduated with an accounting degree. “The university created a level playing field that allowed me an equal chance of succeeding.”

FIU works to ensure that low-income students have the opportunity to better their lives by offering academic and financial support. Students from the foster care system, are homeless or who are first generation college students can receive aid and support through programs such as Fostering Panther Pride, Golden Promise, Golden Scholars and the First Generation Scholarship Program.

More recently, College of Engineering and Computing alumnus Kevin Love ‘15 used his FIU education and network to find his way from the foster care system to a job at Moss & Associates, a Fort Lauderdale-based construction management company.

By the time he was 15, Love’s entire immediate family had been incarcerated. Seeking mentorship, he joined the Broward nonprofit organization Helping Abused Neglected Disadvantaged Youth (HANDY), which assists foster care youth. Through an initiative between FIU and HANDY led by alumnus Chad Moss, Love received a first-generation scholarship, offered to qualifying HANDY students pursuing higher education.

At an annual HANDY scholarship breakfast during Love’s junior year, he met Moss and found a mentor in him. Soon after, Love began an internship at Moss’ company that became a full-time job as a project manager after graduation.

“FIU offered a kid from the foster care system a support network that continues to be there for me today,” Love said. “Without the opportunity for a college education, who knows where I would be today.”