Press Release

AAC&U Announces Winner of the Frederic W. Ness Book Award

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announces the winner of its annual Frederic W. Ness Book Award, Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Cost of Upward Mobility, published by Princeton University Press. The annual Ness Award recognizes the book that best contributes to the understanding and improvement of liberal education. The award will be formally presented to the book’s author, Jennifer M. Morton, at the AAC&U Virtual Annual Meeting on January 21, 2021. Morton is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since receiving her doctorate degree from Stanford University, she has focused her research on the philosophy of action, morality, education and politics.

Published in 2019, Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Cost of Upward Mobility, delves into the true cost of higher education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and looks at the ethical dilemmas of upward mobility—the broken ties with family and friends, the severed connections with former communities and the loss of identity—faced by students as they strive to earn a successful place in society. Drawing upon philosophy, social science, personal stories and interviews, Morton reframes the college experience, factoring in not just educational and career opportunities but also essential relationships with family, friends and community. Finding that student strivers tend to give up the latter for the former, negating their sense of self, Morton seeks to reverse this course. She urges educators to empower students with a new narrative of upward mobility—one that honestly situates ethical costs in historical, social and economic contexts and that allows students to make informed decisions for themselves. A powerful work with practical implications, Moving Up without Losing Your Way paves a hopeful road so that students might achieve social mobility while retaining their best selves.

“Morton’s compelling book advances our understanding of how working-class, low-income and immigrant college students navigate higher education and the deeply personal choices and sacrifices they are often required to make,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “For over 100 years the Ness Book Award has highlighted ways in which our understanding and delivery of liberal education can be improved. Morton’s important book provides colleges with the insight and tools to better serve students faced with the ethical costs of upward mobility.”

“In a society like ours in which opportunities are segregated and concentrated in some communities and disadvantages in others, upward mobility will involve serious ethical losses for those who leave and for those who stay. These losses should concern us all because they serve to erode an important aspect of what makes human lives meaningful and valuable,” said Jennifer M. Morton in an interview with Princeton University Press. “I do think that colleges and professors can play a role in mitigating these costs by helping strivers develop new meaningful and valuable relationships in the communities they’re joining.”

This year’s Ness award winner was selected by a committee of higher education leaders including Kathleen Woodward (Committee Chair), Professor in the Humanities and Professor of English and Director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington; Brandon Busteed, President, University Partners and Global Head, Learn-Work Innovation at Kaplan; Carol Leary, President (retired), Bay Path University; Robert Pura, President (retired), Greenfield Community College; and Lynn Pasquerella, President, AAC&U.

For more information about Moving Up Without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Cost of Upward Mobility, visit

For information about the Frederic W. Ness Book Award, visit

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,200 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

About Ascendium Education Group

Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit