Two new reports shed light on social networks to support social mobility

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Jul 15, 2021

At last month’s JFF Horizons conference, I had the pleasure of sitting down with two researchers leading cutting-edge research on measuring social capital among learners and workers: Kwadwo Frimpong of Brookings and Ben Houltberg of the Search Institute.

Frimpong and his colleagues from Brookings published what was really a first of its kind study, titled How We Rise, on how social networks impact economic mobility in 4 cities across the United States – Charlotte, Racine, San Francisco, Washington D.C. The researchers collected data on whom survey respondents turned to for education, employment, and housing support. As Frimpong discussed during our panel, the findings were stark: race was a key predictor of network size and strength, with Black men in particular reporting smaller networks with lower rates of reciprocity.

Houltberg and his colleagues from the Search Institute recently released a report as well as a measurement tool focused on assessing students’ social capital, in particular in terms of their peer, near peer, and program staff relationships. The Social Capital Assessment + Learning for Equity (SCALE) Measures were built in partnership with six education to employment organizations that treat social capital as a programmatic outcome and were eager for more valid ways to measure it. Houltberg’s colleagues also published a report highlighting aggregate data from those six organizations and the particular ways that different relationships appeared to help learners get by and get ahead.

Both researchers also offered recommendations into how education and workforce systems could act on their findings. For complete recording of our discussion (it’s only 30 minutes!) log onto the JFF Horizons platform for free here: https://jff.brand.live/c/socialnetworksforsocialmobility 

Julia is the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Her work aims to educate policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres. Be sure to check out her book, "Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students' Networks" https://amzn.to/2RIqwOk.