13:27 PM

Stone Co-Founder, Wife Give $1 Million in Support of Social Mobility

Steve Wagner, the president and co-founder of Stone Brewing, and his wife, Laura, have given $1 million to Cal State San Marcos to establish funding to support social mobility, one of the core tenets of the university’s new strategic plan. 

The Stone Brewing Fund for Social Mobility will provide foundational funding to improve college access and success for students via avenues such as Student Affairs initiatives, college faculty mentorship programs and community outreach.  

Wagner is the chair of the CSUSM Foundation Board, and he and Laura are among the university’s most ardent community champions. 

“We are so impressed with the growth of CSUSM and what it has accomplished over the years, and we wanted to help out in any way that we could,” Wagner said. “The social mobility piece is important to us because one of the best ways to solve the inequity or inequality in our society these days is to help people who may not normally have access to a college education to be able to get there and succeed. And it’s not just success for them – it’s success for their families and, in CSUSM’s case, with 80% of graduates staying in the area, it’s success for our region and companies like ours, families like ours.”  

The Wagners structured their gift so that it’s both an endowment that supports long-term priorities and a discretionary fund that can be used by CSUSM President Ellen Neufeldt for immediate needs – needs, for example, that were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This gift is transformational for us, our students and our community – it’s a tremendous investment in our collective future,” Neufeldt said. “I am grateful to Steve and Laura for their immense generosity and confidence in the mission of CSUSM. We are excited to leverage their investment to support and further enable the success of our students in earning degrees, leading to social mobility and economic prosperity for our entire region.”  

Among the ways that the social mobility fund could be deployed in the short term are to enhance the critical financial stability for existing student programs, to expand success programs to serve more students, to develop a comprehensive data management and analysis process to track outcomes and student progress, and to create multiple success programs for underrepresented student populations. It also will support an experiential leadership conference and social mobility symposium.  

“To say that Steve leads by example would be an understatement,” said Jessica Berger, CSUSM’s vice president of University Advancement. “His dedication to the success of our students today, through thoughtful mentorship and generous support, combined with his commitment to future generations of CSUSM students will have a lasting imprint. The magnitude of Steve’s gift underscores the tremendous impact that philanthropy will have in transforming lives.”  

Social mobility is an institutional pillar for CSUSM under Neufeldt, a nationally regarded expert in the subject. The university’s new strategic plan, which launched this semester, places student success at the center of the campus’ mission, with a vision to be a national leader in student social mobility.  

In some ways, CSUSM already is; for the last seven years, it has ranked in the top 5% out of 1,500 schools in the Social Mobility Index by CollegeNET, which measures the extent to which a college or university educates more economically disadvantaged students (with family incomes below the national median) at lower tuition and graduates them into good-paying jobs.  

About half of CSUSM students are underrepresented minorities, and at least 52% of graduates are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree. One in nine students is a veteran, service member or military-affiliated dependent. CSUSM is also a major contributor of bachelor’s degree holders to the region’s workforce, with more than 80% of students remaining in the region following graduation.  

Wagner stepped into the role of chair of the Foundation Board last year, about a decade after he first joined the board. On CSUSM Giving Day last Nov. 30, he and board director Nathaniel Keifer-Wheals funded 23 challenge gifts and bonuses, fueling a level of competition that helped the university break its Giving Day records by raising $457,193 in just 24 hours.  

Steve and Laura Wagner also fund a music scholarship at CSUSM and School of Arts programming that focuses on underrepresented artists. And Wagner remains active in a professional mentoring program that he helped establish through the College of Business Administration.