Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Higher Education Improves Quality of Life for Recipients

From earnings to pension plans and overall community vigor, higher education yields significant rewards to its recipients and society as a whole, shows a College Board study.

“Higher education’s broad payoff—which includes both monetary and nonmonetary benefits—should motivate U.S. policymakers to work toward improving access to postsecondary education for all segments of the population,” said College Board President Gaston Caperton.

These are the dual messages in the extensive 2007 “Education Pays” report to be released Sept. 12 at a College Board-sponsored panel on Capitol Hill. The study’s results will be the topic at Wednesday’s panel, which will include Sandy Baum, senior policy analyst at the College Board and co-author of the report; Mike McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation; and Suzanne Morse, president of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change. Richard Whitmire, USA Today editorial board member and writer, will be the moderator.

“[Higher education] yields a high rate of return for students from all racial/ethnic groups, for men and for women, and for those from all family backgrounds. It also delivers a high rate of return for society,” the study reports.

Benefits to the Individual
The typical college graduate who enrolls at age 18 earns enough in the first 11 years to compensate for taking time out of the labor force and borrowing to pay the full tuition at a public four-year college, the study shows.

In addition to higher personal earnings, the study also reports that the availability of employer-sponsored health benefits and pension plans increases with every level of education completed. For example, almost 70 percent of full-time employees with at least a bachelor’s degree have access to pension plans while only 53 percent of high school graduates have that access. The percentage drops to 32 for employees who do not have a high school degree. Likewise, the level of participation in available pension plans increases as education levels increase.

Societal Benefits
College graduates are also more likely than others to engage in behaviors that improve their health. Additionally, society reaps significant rewards when a higher percentage of its residents have postsecondary education, the study shows. Higher rates of volunteering, voting and donating blood correspond to higher levels of education as do lower unemployment and poverty rates. Similarly, socially valuable behaviors, such as tolerance for the opinions of others, seem to increase with education. A more educated workforce also would lead to higher wages for all.

“In the current climate of rising college prices and budget constraints at all levels of government, it is particularly important that the benefits of higher education receive as much attention as the costs,” said Caperton. “[This study illustrates] the role of higher education in creating opportunities for students and in strengthening our country as a whole.”

College Enrollment
As indicated in the first part of the report, the many positives associated with higher education highlight the lingering disparity among demographics in accessing and succeeding in postsecondary education. The second part of the report focuses on these statistics.

While college enrollment rates have increased fastest over time at the lower end of the income distribution, about 30 percentage points more high school graduates from the highest income quintile than from the lowest enroll in college immediately after high school. Moreover, the study shows significant differences in college enrollment related to ethnicity.

“College participation rates among whites are higher than those among blacks and Hispanics,” reports the study. “Gaps in college enrollment rates have fluctuated over the past three decades and are now relatively large by historical standards.”

More female high school graduates are enrolling in higher education, overtaking males by about 4 percent in 2005. Among 18- to 24-year-old high school grads, 49 percent of females and 45 percent of males were enrolled in postsecondary institutions in 2005.

In addition to ethnicity and income, the study also reveals that parent education levels and student (standardized) test scores are positively correlated with a student’s chance for college enrollment and completion.

The study also reports on a number of other trends. For example, the proportion of U.S. adults who have a four-year degree has doubled in the last 30 years and has increased almost fivefold since 1940. Other factors relating to trends in higher education, including community characteristics and international comparisons, are also documented.

The College Board: Connecting Students to College Success
The College Board is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the association is composed of more than 5,200 schools, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations. Each year, the College Board serves seven million students and their parents, 23,000 high schools, and 3,500 colleges through major programs and services in college admissions, guidance, assessment, financial aid, enrollment, and teaching and learning. Among its best-known programs are the SAT®, the PSAT/NMSQT®, and the Advanced Placement Program® (AP®). The College Board is committed to the principles of excellence and equity, and that commitment is embodied in all of its programs, services, activities, and concerns.