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Does the Public See the Benefits of Higher Education?

Scarcely a day goes by without another media report about higher education in the United States. For the casual reader, it can be confusing.

Some articles note that trust and confidence of the American public in higher education has declined. But other readings remind us that trust is declining for most major institutions in the US. Indeed, in comparison to other institutions, higher education, albeit falling in trust, remains on the higher end of reported trust, along with the military and scientists. Higher education garners more trust than than business, banks, law, religion, and labor. Other articles point out these cross-institutions’ comparisons.

Other discussions focus on the economic rewards of higher education. There is pretty strong agreement on income advantages of completing degree programs. But then other reports find that the economic benefits of education are eroding over time. The accumulation of wealth shows lower educational advantage, but such analysis might be clarified by additional considerations of changing housing prices over regions and time. (House equity is generally the largest single source of wealth accumulation for Americans.)

Depending on the current job market, there are either articles on poor prospects for college graduates or inadequate supply of graduates. Looking forward, most all of the projections of labor market needs suggest that the wage premium for college graduates will increase over time. US universities are not producing enough of a supply to fit the demand, if the projections are correct.

There are many articles about student debt. Outside the US the cost of education is more fully borne by central governments for most universities. Some decades ago, the US Federal government provided generous scholarships to students, some that exceeded the full costs of their education. Both state legislatures’ and US government support for students have not stayed current. The lack of government support has led both state and private universities to place the burden on students. For example, the selective state flagships have tuitions for out-of-state students that rival those of private institutions.

There are fewer articles that reveal that student debt is a much larger problem among those who don’t complete a degree, and subsequently are deprived of the income benefits of the degree.

With such a noisy environment of commentary on higher education, confusion is understandable for the casual reader, not fully aware of all the diversity of types of colleges, variation in majors, real rice versus sticker price, and other important drivers of college outcomes. So the question arises about the net effects of all these different messages to the general public.

In this vein, a new survey asked the question of what were the outputs of education on the lives of individuals. Some of the findings fit prior surveys, more education brings self-reported better health, income, voter participation, social support networks, charitable and volunteer activity.

In addition, the survey also measured opinions of the sample household members about various outcomes of education. This was a more elaborated set of views of higher education than short questions on trust and return on investment that appear in other surveys.

The survey measured agreements or disagreements about potential outcomes of postsecondary education. The vast majority of respondents agree that various positive outcomes come from such education: Greater innovation, including scientific, medical and technological discoveries (81% of the respondents), higher incomes (73%), a more knowledgeable population (71%), more entrepreneurship and business creation (62%), more productive businesses and organizations (61%). The least agreement concerns whether such education leads to more government representatives working in the best interests of the public (35%), better mental health among Americans (40%), improved workplace satisfaction (45%), better physical health among Americans (45%). In short, most of these opinions of the public map well into actual findings of the effects of education.

Despite all the attention to distrust in institutions and student debt, on one hand, and the mixed messages about educational outcome, it is surprising, and heartening, that large portions of the public continue to see the personal and societal benefits of higher education. I trust that their real-life experiences support their positive assessments of higher education’s effects.

6 thoughts on “Does the Public See the Benefits of Higher Education?

  1. The title seems to delve into how higher education is perceived by the public and the benefits it brings. This is an immensely crucial topic, as higher education can be a significant contributor to individual and societal development.

    The article should be based on a wealth of research to understand the benefits of higher education and how the public approaches these advantages. Statistics and survey results are vital in illustrating how highly the community values higher education and how it affects personal and societal life.

    The benefits of higher education extend not just personally but also economically and socially. The article should address how it enhances graduates’ job prospects, increases their income, and makes them more effective members of society. It should also emphasize how higher education contributes to greater awareness and cultural development within society.

    However, it’s important for the article to acknowledge that higher education isn’t accessible to everyone, and financial constraints can be a barrier. Discussing ways to increase access to higher education and alleviate financial burdens is crucial to ensuring that society derives greater benefits from it.

  2. In an era of mixed messages and heightened skepticism towards institutions, the public’s enduring faith in the transformative power of higher education shines as a beacon of hope. Amidst the noise of fluctuating trust levels and conflicting reports on economic gains, a recent survey illuminates the steadfast belief in the positive impact of postsecondary education. The majority of respondents recognize the profound benefits it bestows, from fostering innovation and higher incomes to cultivating a more knowledgeable populace and spurring entrepreneurship. While challenges like student debt and distrust in institutions persist, this unwavering faith in the potential of higher education serves as a testament to its enduring value. It reaffirms the notion that, despite the cacophony of information, the public’s real-life experiences continue to validate the profound and lasting contributions of higher education to both individuals and society at large.

  3. This is a good read! I’d be interested to hear a bit more about the timeline of federal and state government’s move away from college funding. Are there any articles you could recommend for that?

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