An Educated Society is a Stronger SocietyCindy Miller | Director of Columbia College Global Civilian Region 2 and Director of Columbia College Kansas City, Columbia College
In early 2009 President Obama proclaimed that “every American will need to get more than a high school diploma” and that “America cannot lead in the 21st century unless we have the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world.”
Not an easy task.
President Obama and the Department of Education are not merely referring to bachelor’s degrees and beyond, but also to associate’s degrees, short-term certificate programs and workforce training.
Several pundits have predicted that, in a few short years, as much as two-thirds of the new jobs available in the United States will require some form of postsecondary education. Much of the growth is expected in the fields of health care, science, technology and education.
Beyond the need for workers to fill specific jobs, there are grander reasons to encourage people to pursue postsecondary education. The personal benefits are fairly obvious – research has shown over and over again that a college education leads to higher income earnings over one’s lifetime. College attendance also has been shown to improve health and life expectancy and helps develop a network of people who enrich one’s personal and professional life.
What about the benefits to the community and society as a whole? Bottom line, as a group college graduates contribute more and take less from society.
Increased income means higher income taxes paid by college graduates to support the community, state and country. Less is spent on unemployment compensation, welfare and other social programs when there are more college graduates. In fact, some estimates of savings in these areas run from $800 to $2,000 for each college graduate when compared to a high school graduate.
There is a greater chance that degree recipients have full-time jobs that provide health insurance and retirement benefits. In addition, college graduates are less likely to be incarcerated. For every four high school graduates jailed, only one college graduate is jailed, saving taxpayers an average per-prisoner cost of more than $20,000 per year.
Children are better off if their parents graduate from college. These parents are more involved with their children’s education in and outside of school. Their preschool children have a higher likelihood of being read to, and are more likely to be able to count to 20 and write their name. Children of college graduates are more inclined to attend college themselves.
College graduates are more involved in community service programs and civic participation. A greater percentage of college grads compared to non-grads are active in some form of political process. More college degree recipients read local newspapers and as a consequence have greater awareness and understanding of community, regional and national issues. This leads them to vote in greater numbers. After all, as the President and countless philosophers and political scientists have noted in the past, a healthy democracy relies on an educated populace.
College graduates are more critically thinking, and display more creative attributes due to the complex intellectual and academic skills they learned through their postsecondary studies. Graduates are more independent, and have fewer tendencies toward dogmatism and ethnocentrism. They are better able to work collaboratively in diverse environments.
Other societal benefits come from robust collegiate institutions that enhance economic development through innovative research programs and partnerships with business and/or government entities.
If you stopped a college graduate on the street and asked why he/she went to college, the answer would probably be “to get a good job.” However, colleges and universities know a very important function of education is to not only train workers, but to produce an engaged citizenry. The value of growing intellectual capital and cultivating a sense of social responsibility to the local and global community cannot be reduced to mere dollars and cents.
Author Perspective: Administrator