Public Good

Since its founding in 2000, the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good strives to “increase awareness, understanding, commitment, and action in support of higher education’s public service mission” (Burkhardt, Pasque, Bowman & Martinez, 2009, p. xiii).  The goal of founder John Burkhardt and his colleagues is to facilitate this awareness and understanding through research.  To understand the mission of the Forum, it is vital to define the term “public good”.

It is often said that college graduates will make one million dollars more in their lifetime than those who did not attend college.  This statistic, along with others about the financial benefits of higher education, encourages millions of young Americans to acquire a college degree.  Personal income is an example of a private good, or private benefit – usually tied to increased education. There is much more to education than the ability to earn income. The National Forum works to encourage people to frame college education as not only an access point for a career, but for the great good that it does for society. In an earlier age, the public discourse often focused on the many public goods associated with education, namely, increased democratic participation, support for the arts, lower instances of criminal activity, and the like.

Research at the National Forum examines how providing higher education to everyone in society, specifically underprivileged and minority groups, can help foster a stronger democracy.  Examples of these historically excluded populations, analyzed at the Forum, include different racial minorities, women, and low socio-economic status societies.  According to research by Julia Garbus, higher education increases “civic awareness, democratic participation, and the well-being of all inhabitants of the United States,” therefore positively affecting the “public good” (Martinez, Pasque, Bowman, & Chambers, 2005, p. 7).  Founding Director Jon Burkhardt argues that, “universities and four- and two-year colleges are some of the most valuable laboratories for democratic experimentation in contemporary America. Universities and colleges are not only an important part of communities, but they are often communities unto themselves — requiring collective action from a wide array of students, faculty, and administrators from a variety of backgrounds” (Continuing the Conversation, 2012).  Higher education has already shaped our current society, but expanding it will only create more opportunities for more people.  It will advance and improve the way our country operates.  Providing college access to society at large will improve the quality of life in the United States, creating social uplift and serving as a public good, not simply a private benefit.

In 2002, the National Forum, along with five other institutions, sponsored a program called Rising Scholars.  The Rising Scholar program recruited younger scholars to become involved in researching the importance of higher education for the “public good.”  The book, Critical Issues in Higher Education for the Public Good (Pasque, Bowman, & Martinez, 2009), presents the findings of these scholars and their different definitions of the public good.  Three “Legendary Musicians” at the Forum, Martinez, Pasque, and Bowan, said it best when they wrote, “It is our hope that these works stimulate further thought and discussion in professional circles, orient the reader to an emerging discourse on higher education as a public benefit, and draw attention to the careers of these rising scholars” (p. 8).  Another major Forum project was Access to Democracy, which “organized structured conversations amongst the public on the question, ‘Who is College For?’” (Burkhardt, Pasque, Bowman & Martinez, 2009, p. xv).  Current efforts include research into access for undocumented students and community engagement efforts in the Brightmoor neighborhood in Detroit.  The mission of these efforts, and the ongoing mission of the National Forum today, is to encourage academic scholars, college presidents, policy makers, and society as a whole to think about the true purpose of higher education and its positive effect on the public good.


Burkhardt, J. C., Pasque, P. A., Bowman, N. A., & Martinez, M. (2009). Higher education for the public good: Exploring new perspectives. In P. A. Pasque, N. A. Bowman & M. Martinez (Eds.), Critical issues in higher education for the public good: Qualitative, quantitative, & historical research perspectives (pp. xiii-xx). Kennesaw, GA: Kennesaw State University Press.

Continuing the Conversation. (2012) Dayton Days Research Meetings. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation.

Martinez, M., Pasque, P. A., Bowman, N. A., & Chambers, T. C. (2005). Editor’s foreword. In M. Martinez, P. A. Pasque, N. A. Bowman & T. C. Chambers (Eds.), Multidisciplinary perspectives on higher education for the public good (pp. 6-8). Ann Arbor, MI: The National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good.