Spring to Mind

Arts and Sciences Initiative Spring Image

“March, when days are getting long, Let thy growing hours be strong, To set right some wintry wrongs.”

     —Caroline May, 19th-century American poet, editor, and literary critic 

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What springs to mind when you think of higher education today? Media headlines focus on crises, cuts, and declining confidence in the worth of degrees. Policymakers and think tanks share pointed criticism of cost, curriculum, and collegiate leadership. While higher education faces significant challenges both on and off campus, supporters of the arts and sciences can change the conversation.

Last month, The Chronicle of Higher Education featured an interactive quiz about public perceptions of higher education that you can take here: tinyurl.com/CHEQuiz. Would it surprise you to learn that nearly 80 percent of respondents thought their degree was worth it? Nearly the same number would advise a relative or friend to get a bachelor’s degree. As David Demming noted in The Atlantic, “The bad vibes around college are obscuring an important economic reality: Most young people are still far better off with a college degree.” Moreover, numerous studies show time and again that all Americans reap the positive benefits linked to higher education, including physical and mental health, income, job quality, cognitive ability, civic engagement, service to others, and social trust.

What about some of these other higher education good-news stories heading into 2024? For example, two-thirds of states saw undergraduate enrollment growth last year. State support for higher education increased 10.2 percent for FY2024. Employers’ confidence in higher education remains high, with eight in ten employers agreeing that higher education prepares graduates to succeed in the workforce.

Undoubtedly, higher education will face headwinds this spring. As employers, community leaders, and citizens, Phi Beta Kappa members can individually and collectively voice the value our chapter institutions bring to students, our communities, and the nation. You can find big-picture data and specific opportunities to provide more accurate views of liberal arts and sciences education at toolkit.pbk.org/resources.

Later this spring, the Society will announce the Class of 2024 recipients of our Key into Public Service scholarship. Their student stories will animate the Society’s research and data championing how arts and sciences education prepares students for meaningful, engaged, and productive lives. Now, it’s time to change some minds.