Students know that higher education has long been a route to individual advancement. Attaining a degree correlates with a lower chance of becoming incarcerated, improved health outcomes, and stronger feelings of empowerment and happiness. Additionally, earning a degree helps graduates secure higher wages and more job opportunities, on average, than those without a college degree.
At the same time, higher education enriches the surrounding community. From job creation to community outreach, higher education benefits society as a whole.
Enrich Society and Promote Upward Mobility
Higher education — which includes private and public community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities — offers long-term financial gains to college graduates, who, in turn, generate tax revenue to benefit society at large.
In March 2020, the employment rate for bachelor’s degree holders (86%) was higher than the employment rate for those with some college experience (78%) and those with only a high school degree (69%), according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
And because college graduates on average earn more, they contribute more in taxes than their peers who haven’t attained a degree. With more tax revenue, government agencies can sustain and expand programs including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and housing assistance for low-income families and individuals.
Additionally, the upward mobility that higher education provides can strengthen society at large. Research from the Brookings Institution shows that students who attend four-year colleges are significantly more likely to experience upward mobility in adulthood relative to their parents than those who didn’t go to college. In this way, universities help to close the educational attainment gap and foster educational diversity among the general public.
Support Health and Well-Being
Higher educational attainment is also associated with improved health outcomes. For example, a 2021 study on the welfare of white working-class people between the ages of 45 and 54 in the U.S. showed that college graduates were less likely to report suffering from chronic pain and depression than other individuals of the same age.
College degree attainment also correlates with lower rates of addiction at the population level. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in 2019 that over 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease — but cigarette smoking was lowest among Americans with a graduate degree.
Moreover, advanced education often leads to healthy habits. A 2021 study on nutrition published in the journal EPJ Data Science notes that people with higher educational attainment tend to eat healthier and more diverse diets, characterized by more fruits, vegetables, and fish compared with their non-college-educated peers. A healthier populace leads to fewer illnesses and injuries — keeping a population living longer with less pain.
Nurture Social Support Networks
Another one of the benefits of higher education to society is that it can help students develop personal and professional connections that enable networks of support during their studies and long after graduation.
Students may find that they become lifelong friends with peers after working on a class project, competing together on a sports team, or volunteering at a campus event. The social support provided by the friendships developed in school can offer protection against stress, according to decades of research synthesized by The New York Times in 2022.
Colleges and universities provide access to professional opportunities, organizations, and alumni communities that can expand students’ social networks even further— creating social support systems that can persist throughout their lives.
Foster Critical Thinking and Civic Engagement
Undergraduate and graduate courses encourage critical thinking and, by extension, civic engagement — which empowers individuals, and the communities where they live, to take hold of their political destinies.
College graduates are more likely to vote in local and national elections compared with those without a college degree, according to a 2021 article published by the Annenberg Institute.
HealthyPeople.gov, a subsidiary of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, defines civic engagement as voting, volunteering, community gardening, and participating in rallies and other forms of civic discourse. Its 2020 resource guide on civic participation found that people with higher educational attainment may have more opportunities for civic engagement, “as college students have opportunities to get involved in community affairs through fraternities, sororities, or other student organizations.”
Some of the most direct benefits of higher education to society come in the form of giving back to surrounding communities. Colleges and universities give back to the community by supplying jobs and services such as networking and training events, career counseling, arts and performance events, and community outreach programs such as public lectures and demonstrations.
In addition, university students and graduates enrich their communities through volunteer work, leadership, and philanthropic contributions.
Uplift Society With Higher Education
Higher education offers many benefits to individuals and society at large: advancing upward mobility, improving health outcomes, growing social support networks, fostering civic engagement, and directly giving back in terms of volunteer resources and public arts and entertainment events.
Are you interested in exploring how higher education can contribute to a more equitable and just society? Professionals who want to make a positive impact in their colleges and universities should explore Bradley University’s online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program. With action research methodology strategically interwoven throughout the doctoral coursework, graduates will be able to apply their training to real-world higher education issues. Learn how earning a doctorate in education can help propel your career in higher education leadership.
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Annenberg Institute, “Why Does Education Increase Voting?”
Brookings Institution, “Public Colleges Are the Workhorses of Middle-Class Mobility”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States”
College Board, Education Pays 2019
EPJ Data Science, “On the Interplay Between Educational Attainment and Nutrition”
Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “The Cost of Economic and Racial Injustice in Postsecondary Education”
HealthyPeople.gov, Civic Participation
National Center for Education Statistics, Employment Rates of Young Adults
The New York Times, “4 Ways to Cultivate Resilience in 2022”
Postsecondary Value Commission, “Ensuring a More Equitable Future: Assessing Student Learning and Growth in Higher Education”
Survey Center on American Life, “The College Connection: The Education Divide in American Social and Community Life ”