December 9, 2022
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—A coalition of dozens of public university systems across the country is launching a campaign aimed at improving public perception of the value of higher education—in part by measuring those institutions’ current contributions and committing to improve their performance.
The National Association of System Heads, which represents the leaders of 65 university systems, unveiled the “College Is Worth It” campaign Wednesday to a room of university system leaders and other higher education luminaries at NASH’s “superconvening” just outside of Washington, D.C. The campaign aims to push back on years of declining public confidence in the value of higher education, and their negative impact on enrollment, by setting concrete goals for institutions to increase credential attainment, improve social mobility, and reduce student debt.
As part of the campaign, NASH developed a unique data set to gauge its member institutions’ collective impact on improving the value and equity of higher education—and how much work still needs to be done.
“We’re battling a crisis of confidence in higher ed,” David Belsky, a spokesperson for NASH, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “We know the value of a degree—graduates earn more, live longer, vote often, and are better prepared for the jobs we need. So we’re launching this campaign, with the data to back it up, to improve public perception.”
The initiative seems to be a recognition from higher education leaders that the belief in a college degree as a stepping-stone to social mobility, once nearly universal, is fading.
The initiative comes on the heels of NASH’s “Power of Systems” campaign, launched at last year’s convention, which focused on similar issues. But the scope of “College Is Worth It” goes beyond its predecessor’s: it is both a public relations campaign and a material effort to increase the economic return on investment in a college degree.
While light on specific action plans, the campaign’s goals are ambitious. Currently, about half of all students at NASH institutions who come from families in the bottom 40 percent of income earners end up in the top 40 percent, according to data provided by NASH. Through the College Is Worth It campaign, NASH hopes to increase that rate to 65 percent by 2040.