Higher education has received a great deal of attention in the national media recently—from discussions regarding the cost of a college degree and student debt to free speech on college campuses. Add to this picture unprecedented financial challenges for colleges and universities as state and federal budgets are cut and family incomes remain flat, and it’s hard to digest these stories without thinking about the value of higher education.
But every once in a while we are reminded about the important role higher education plays as a true ladder of social mobility. Recently, The New York Times published its annual College Access Index, which evaluates schools that are doing the most for lower- and middle-income students—providing the financial support that leads to graduation and academic success. There was one school fairly high on the list—#16 of 170 colleges and universities—whose name might have been unfamiliar to many readers: Knox College, a small liberal arts college in Western Illinois.
I happen to have graduated from Knox College and I currently serve as an Honorary Trustee, so I wasn’t surprised to see it on the list. Knox was founded by abolitionists in 1837 with a dedication to providing all students—regardless of race, gender or financial means—with a college education. Today, Knox continues to meet that mission: A quarter of Knox’s 1,400 students receive Pell Grants, and nearly a third are first-generation college students.
Generations of Knox alumni have found both professional and personal success and have made significant contributions across a broad spectrum of fields: they serve as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and have led presidential transition teams; they argue cases in front of the U. S. Supreme Court and win Pulitzer Prizes; they help create computer languages and land their own Netflix specials; and they contribute to the well-being of our local, national, and international communities.
Knox College has been transforming lives for 180 years. The New York Times ranking serves as a wonderful reminder to me—and I hope as an introduction to those of you reading this who may not have heard of this Illinois college—of the value of schools like Knox: Sometimes it’s the smallest colleges that make the biggest difference in the world.