Provost Muma: We should address negative perceptions of higher education

We live in a time and place where some of our neighbors are skeptical about the value of higher education.

Sunday's Wichita Eagle front page had a lengthy article, "Is college the key to success? Many in Wichita say no,"

It was pointed out in the article that a recent Pew survey found about 77 percent of nationwide respondents said college is extremely or very important. But in Wichita, only 54 percent said so.

In the same survey, only a third of Wichitans said colleges and universities "have had a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days," compared with 55 percent nationwide.

James Chung a Wichita-raised economist analyzing the city's strengths and challenges as part of the Wichita Community Foundation's Focus Forward project stated, "I've never been in a city where people are so willing, proactively, to talk negatively about higher education institutions and about higher education in general."

I attended Chung's talk, and stood in support of higher education after he made this statement.

We need to change these perceptions. As members of the higher education community and the Wichita community, we need to support higher education. That can take the form of serious discussions with your family, friends, neighbors and their children; volunteering to provide presentations about your discipline; or speaking up when you think our profession or institution is being unfairly described. All of these actions can be impactful if hundreds of us accept and share the responsibility.

As the article points out, "the path to success and a happy life goes straight through college." There isn't just a single definition of college. It may be experienced through a liberal arts or professional degree program, a two-year degree at WSU Tech, a certificate, or a badge, or even a non-credit enrichment course. All of these originate in higher education and should be promoted so that the community understands their importance.

We will be discussing more about this when everyone returns in the fall, in the President's annual address and other forums.

I hope you're enjoying some time off this summer. I'm looking forward to seeing you in the fall.

Rick Muma