Executive Director's Blog

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On the Move

Nov 21, 2016
A friend once teased, in reference to my career path in higher ed administration, that I was collecting houses along the way. He wasn’t wrong — at one point, thanks to the burst housing bubble, I owned two townhomes and was renting a third. Ouch. That certainly wasn’t my choice, so I’m happy to report that I’ve been back to one house for some time now.

Americans used to be much more on the move than they seem to be of late. Until a generation ago, middle-class families uprooted often as corporate transfers and upward mobility combined. Military families have always known that model. I’ve heard more than one Army or Air Force “brat” say they weren’t really sure where they were from before reciting a list of states in which they’d lived.

College and university admissions officers noticed this trend some time ago. In 2000, the general rule was that most undergraduates looked for schools within 200 miles of home. A 2009 study in the Journal of College Admission of over 900,000 undergraduates found the average distance a student traveled to college was 94 miles. Fully 72 percent attended an institution in their home state. Given the propensity of states to offer grants to their own residents, that high average should be no surprise. Should it also be unsurprising that only one in ten students studies abroad before graduating?  

Research confirms the trends observed in college enrollments. What economists call internal migration — moves across county and state lines — has declined by half since the 1980s. (See Eleanor Bloxham’s article later in this issue for more on that.)

This new reality reverses the historic behavior of Americans. Since its founding, the nation has been peopled through parallel developments: the westward movement of generations in pursuit of the American Dream, and the ever larger waves of immigrants who came to our shores seeking freedom and promise. 

As a senator, John F. Kennedy laid the groundwork for immigration reform with his small book entitled A Nation of Immigrants. Strongly opposed to the national origin quotas established in the 1920s that essentially closed the doors to migrants for forty years, Kennedy’s recommendations were codified in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. And thus began the largest wave of immigration in American history. 

American society and culture has been greatly enriched by the diversity introduced by immigrants over the course of our history, yet no question was more divisive in the recent election cycle. Acknowledgement of the immigrant contribution tends to gets lost in the rhetoric of fear that suggests immigrants are draining federal, state, and local resources and the economy. E pluribus unum has never been so narrowly defined.

Phi Kappa Phi’s niche among prestigious honor societies is its embrace of all disciplines. The diversity of our membership reflects the diversity on college and university campuses across the country. Some of our newest chapters have introduced to this community of scholars the diversity the founders envisioned at the 1914 convention when the subject of expansion was raised: “Delegates favored expansion not only in land grant institutions but those privately endowed.” 

One of the things I stress when visiting prospective chapters is the importance of meshing Phi Kappa Phi with the culture of their institution. Each of our chapters develops its own local practice while observing the membership guidelines of the Society. Yet we recognize the Phi Kappa Phi key as a mark of excellence wherever we find it. Out of many, one. 

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