The Importance of Higher Education in Today’s Society

Seeking higher education has long been considered a wise endeavor. Over time, those who have attended college have been able to broaden their horizons in unique ways. They’ve been able to grow substantially in and out of the classroom. And they’ve been able to lay strong foundations for their adult lives.

At present, our job market is more competitive and specialized than ever before, making college more valuable than any other moment in history. It is crucial for high school educators to articulate this to their students and prepare them for the next step—whether they’re explaining the challenges and rewards of college, testing kids with the kind of modern, online exam software they’ll see at the next level, or offering general advice.

If you or someone in your life wishes to pursue higher education, here are seven points to take into account.

College Grads Earn Higher Salaries

There’s been a bevy of research showing that people with college degrees are likely to earn far more money in their careers than those without. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the difference in economic lives between Americans with just high school diplomas and Americans with college degrees is wider than it has ever been recorded before. In 2015, college grads earned 56 percent more income than those who only graduated college—up from 51 percent in 1999.

And the gap is continuing to grow: Per Georgetown’s Anthony P. Carnevale, 2015 was the first time on record that a larger percentage of the U.S. workforce had college degrees than only high school diplomas.

This, predictably, leads to a remarkable difference in lifetime earnings. While general income varies greatly depending on factors such as degree, gender, occupation, and race/ethnicity, an American with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn around 66 percent more money during a 40-year work life than a typical high school grad.

College Grads are Healthier, Happier, and More Engaged

A study on the benefits of college education to individuals and society, conducted by Philip Trostel, has brought forth illuminating data on the importance of a college degree outside of one’s career. According to Trostel’s results, a higher percentage of college grads say they are happy than those without university degrees. College grads also report that they have “good” or “very good” health 44 percent more often than those without college degrees.

Moreover, Americans with college degrees are 3.9 times less likely to smoke cigarettes and are far more likely to take care of themselves by exercising regularly, wearing a seat belt, maintaining a healthy weight and seeking medical care on a regular basis. Overall, per Trostel, these factors give degree-holding Americans an average life expectancy seven years longer than Americans who hold a high school diploma or less.

Additionally, college graduates tend to be more responsible, self-sufficient, and engaged in society. Trostel’s numbers show that those with only high school diplomas or less are 4.9 times more likely to be jailed or imprisoned than those who attended college in some form, and college grads use roughly 39 percent less government resources overall.

And another report conducted by College Board shows that, across each age group, adults who have received higher levels of education are more likely to vote: In 2014, for example, the voting rate of 25- to 44-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or more was 45 percent—a full 25 percentage points higher than the rate of high school grads.

College Is Often Worth High Costs

The biggest obstacle for most people seeking a college education is affordability—or lack thereof. Tuition is higher today than it has ever been before; many millennials see those costs, consider the long-term impact of student loan debt, and decide against a university experience. Their concerns are understandable, of course. Nevertheless, research shows that college degrees tend to pay for themselves. And then some.

According to MIT economist David Autor, who penned a study on the financial impact of seeking a secondary education, the true cost of a college degree is, on average, negative $500,000. In other words, after accounting for the cost of tuition and fees, the earnings gap between college graduates and non-college graduates, and inflation/time value of money, going to college puts the typical American in a far better financial position over the long haul.

A College Degree Equals More Stability

The job market is and always will be unpredictable. Over the course of one’s professional life, the health of our economy will experience many fruitful years and plenty of trying times. Attaining a college degree is a good way to avoid the effects of the latter.

According to a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, more than 95 percent of the jobs created between 2010 (the end of the Great Recession) and 2016 have gone to Americans who received education beyond high school. On the other hand, those with high school diplomas or less, who lost 5.6 million jobs between December 2007 and January 2010, only recovered one percent of their losses between 2011 and 2016.

College Grads are More Satisfied with Their Careers

Statistics show that the more education one receives, the more satisfied they are with their work. In a College Board study, which surveyed Americans 25 and older with full-time or part-time jobs, around 58 percent of those with some college education or an associates degree were “very satisfied” with their jobs, while only 40 percent of those with a high school diploma fit in that category.

College Makes Upward Mobility Easier

The choice to attend college can certainly lead to financial challenges. Still, for families with low income, higher education is a proven way to improve their long-term prospects. Per a report by the U.S Treasury Department, those born into the poorest fifth of American families are 80 percent more likely to better their economic status over the course of a lifetime by earning a college degree.

Grads Say Going to College is Worth It

Roughly 90 percent of college graduates in the United States say their college experience has been or will be worthwhile. Although seeking higher education requires a much larger financial sacrifice today than it did for past generations, 62 percent of millennials say that their college education has paid off, and 26 percent believe it will pay off in the future.

Kathleen Nubinski
Kathleen Nubinski is a freelance writer and former teacher based in Clayton, Georgia. She loves teaching others and strives to get children and young adults more involved in science and learning. When she’s not writing, she volunteers in her community.