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Urban Institute Announces Launch of $11 million Initiative to Investigate How Schools Can Better Drive Students’ Economic Mobility

March 18, 2024
The Student Upward Mobility Initiative will identify skills and competencies that fuel students’ later success

March 15, 2024 —Today, the Urban Institute announced the launch of an $11 million multi-year initiative to investigate how education can more positively influence the future economic mobility of students.

The Student Upward Mobility Initiative will invest in research that identifies measures of skills and competencies in prekindergarten (PK) through 12th grade that drive students’ later economic mobility. Educators and policymakers will be able to use the findings to shape practices, programs, interventions, and broader systems change. The initiative will build a field of researchers, generate new research, and synthesize insights across disciplines to understand and catalyze how schools can drive students’ long-term economic success, power, autonomy, dignity, and belonging.

While research has shown education is a key factor in students’ lifelong success, there is little evidence about how the PK-12 system can improve students’ later economic mobility and how their environments affect the development and impact of those outcomes.

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Urban’s Student Upward Mobility Initiative will fund $3 million in grants in 2024 for researchers to develop measures of PK-12 skills and competencies and connect PK-12 measures to economic mobility, while considering the role of other factors such as students’ neighborhoods and experiences before and after primary and secondary school.

The Student Upward Mobility Initiative is a fiscally sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, with funding from the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation.

It will fund research examining academic achievement, “noncognitive” factors, health and well-being, social capital, and career preparation that schools can help develop.

“I’m excited this initiative will augment the traditional measures we use to track student success, such as test scores, attendance, and graduation rates,” said Matthew Chingos, Vice President of Education & Data at Urban and co-lead of the project. “Knowing which PK–12 skills and competencies drive economic mobility for different groups of students is information that can be used to target student-, school-, and system-level practices and interventions and support accountability. Before recommending policy and practice changes, though, we need to understanding how these factors are affected by students’ context.”

“This initiative draws on the expertise of Urban’s education policy team when it comes to studying students’ long-term outcomes and economic mobility. Parents and teachers from the DC community have also shaped our initiative by telling us what it takes to set kids up for upward mobility,” said Karishma Furtado, co-lead of the project. “We also know this research crosses disciplines from psychology to education to economics. Our advisory council of well-known research and policy experts has helped ensure our grants program will attract scholars across fields.”

More information can be found at

About the Urban Institute

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. We are a trusted source for changemakers who seek to strengthen decisionmaking, create inclusive economic growth, and improve the well-being of families and communities. For more than 50 years, Urban has delivered facts that inspire solutions—and this remains our charge today.

About the Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, X, formerly known as Twitter and Instagram.