Almost 20,000 new members joined Phi Beta Kappa this commencement season, out of more than two million students who will graduate from American four-year colleges and universities this year. Earning a key symbolizes a founding American ideal that many have questioned lately: opening the doors to opportunity based on merit.
In the wake of admissions scandals and concerns that higher education is financially out of reach for many Americans, we at Phi Beta Kappa have a particular role to play in underscoring the public value of the liberal arts and sciences and promoting access to excellence. Many of our chapters have expanded their outreach this year to students who are highly qualified but may not be familiar with Phi Beta Kappa. Through the energized support of the central administration at Arizona State University, for example, its chapter increased new member acceptances by nearly threefold. Roughly one-third of these new inductees are students of color, almost 30% are Pell Grant eligible (the most financially needy students), and more than 20% are the first generation of their family to attend college.
This past spring, I experienced firsthand the growing diversity of Phi Beta Kappa as I crisscrossed the country, with ΦBK President Lynn Pasquerella, installing four new chapters: Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, Mississippi State University, and the University of South Florida. Public and private, faith-based and non-sectarian, these four schools represent the extraordinary breadth of Phi Beta Kappa institutions. What these schools share in common with each other and their predecessors is a deep commitment to the liberal arts and sciences as the essential element of an education that prepares us for a meaningful, productive, and engaged life.
Phi Beta Kappa is committed to the recognition and advancement of the nation’s most accomplished liberal arts and sciences students, regardless of their backgrounds. This commitment challenges us, but it also inspires us. As we welcome this widening circle of Phi Beta Kappa members, we are paying close attention to the essential role of new voices, perspectives, and talents; our diversity will fuel the excellence that is our hallmark across generations.
Membership only begins at graduation; Phi Beta Kappa is not merely a credential that we earn, it is a Society to which we belong. Our chapters and associations connect graduates to a worldwide network of Phi Beta Kappa members, enhancing future academic and professional opportunities. Whether a new grad moves back home or across the country, I invite them all to take advantage of Key Connections events taking place September 5-8 in major metropolitan areas around the nation.
To all our members, I hope that in the days and years ahead, you will stay connected with the Society and take pride in your extraordinary education, as you develop your talents, contribute to your communities, and engage the love of learning that is the guide to our lives.
Frederick M. Lawrence
Secretary and CEO