Higher education is no stranger to controversy, but once again the merits of this venerable institution are being called into question. A spate of bad publicity about open speech, hazing and the cost of higher ed has many Americans wondering if a college degree is really worth the effort.
Those doubts resonate in the results of a highly publicized Pew Research Center survey in which a growing segment of the population indicated that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country.
At the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we have long believed that higher education is the main pathway to employment and the American dream. Our grantee partners work hard to level the playing field for students who want to attend college but find themselves at a disadvantage by no fault of their own.
And while no college or university is perfect, there are countless reasons why higher education is good for the nation. Here are three that come to mind.
Higher education is good for families. Much has been written about the costs associated with college and the lingering impact of student loan debt. Those are reasonable concerns, even for students fortunate enough receive help from scholarships.
It’s also well known that postsecondary education is the key to a better income for many people. According to the College Board’s report Education Pays 2016, those 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree who were working full time in 2015 had median earnings that were $24,600, or 67 percent, higher than their counterparts with only a high school diploma.
As Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at the College Board and a coauthor of the report, puts it, “A college education is an investment that pays dividends over the course of a lifetime — even for students who accumulate some debt to obtain a degree.”
Higher education is good for society. As students graduate from college, they increase their chances of finding work that is rewarding emotionally and financially. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released additional findings: Although many people are concerned about how colleges and universities are impacting the country overall, they also believe that institutions of higher education are successful at preparing students for good jobs in the current economy.
There is also a link between civic engagement and higher education, such as the College Board’s finding that adults with more education were more likely to vote than those with less education. It is reasonable to assume that those who are more engaged are more likely to hold public office and other positions of authority someday.
Which brings us to this point: Higher education is good for our future. Colleges and universities don’t just train students to write excellent term papers. They encourage them to become critical thinkers. The colleges, universities and organizations with whom we partner actively encourage students to become leaders in their workplaces and communities.
As a result, we often hear from students who are the first in their families to attend college and now are role models for other family members. We see many graduates starting their own businesses and becoming job creators. We know of students with disabilities who are graduating and embarking on meaningful careers. We hear about college graduates are involved in nonprofits and giving to charitable causes.
These stories aren’t the ones that make headlines, but these students and graduates are truly making a difference both on and off campus. All of this, we believe, bodes well for America’s future.