17 reasons why higher education matters

College is expensive and it isn’t for everyone. But for those who can succeed at the college level, higher education grants enormous benefits that impact the life of the student, their family, and have ripple effects across society.

What kind of impact? In 2004, CollegeBoard published the first Education Pays report. The study sought to understand the effects of higher education through rigorous research across years of demographic data. We’ve condensed their findings (we counted discrete 17 benefits) into more readable bullet points. The report serves as a reminder of why we should care about a more educated world.

If you’re more of a visual learner, we also published an infographic of these findings on page 20 of our 2014 Social Purpose Report.

2013 Education Pays — Full Version (PDF)

2016 Education Pays — Full Version (PDF)

TL;DR benefits of higher education

  1. More income
  2. Greater income “leaps”
  3. Greater social mobility
  4. More likely to be covered by (and participate in) retirement benefits
  5. Better understanding of political issues
  6. More likely to exercise
  7. Less likely to be obese
  8. Less likely to smoke
  9. Lower unemployment
  10. Greater job satisfaction
  11. More likely to engage in educational activities with children
  12. More tax revenue
  13. Decreased poverty rate
  14. Decreased dependence on public assistance
  15. More engaged citizenry
  16. Increased voter participation
  17. Increase in labor force productivity

Benefits to the college graduate

1. More income

In 2015, bachelor’s degree recipients earned 67% more than high school graduates. After-tax income was also higher: 61% more compared to the average high school graduate. If compared to the median income of a high school graduate, a college graduate who enrolled in school at 18 years old can expect to earn enough by 34 to compensate for not working for four years.  (2016, p. 17-18)

2. More income “leaps”

When comparing 25- to 29-year-olds, pay raises among four-year college graduates is highest. (2013, p. 17)

3. Greater social mobility

Among high school sophomores whose parents were in the lowest income group in 2001, 21% of those who earned a bachelor’s degree reached the highest income quartile themselves 10 years later. 13% of those with a high school diploma reached the same milestone. (2016, p. 33)

4. More likely to be prepared for retirement

In 2015, 43% of high school graduates and 52% of bachelor’s degree graduates were offered a retirement plan. Participation rates in these programs ranged from 73% among workers with less than a high school diploma to 89% among those with advanced degrees. (2016, p.31)

5. More likely to better understand political issues

30% of high school diploma adults reported understanding nothing or only a little about political issues. 11% of four-year college graduates reported the same. (2013, p. 31)

6. More likely to exercise

In 2014, 69% of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree reported exercising vigorously at least once a week. 45% of high school graduates reported the same. (2016, p.35)

7. Less likely to be obese

Across all ages, college-educated adults are less likely than others to be clinically obese. In addition, children living in households with more educated parents are less likely than other children to be obese. (2013, p. 6)

8. Less likely to smoke

In 2014, smoking rates were at 8% for four-year college graduates and 26% for high school graduates. (2016, p. 36)

9. Lower unemployment

The unemployment rate for individuals age 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree has consistently been about half of the unemployment rate for high school graduates. (2016, p. 4)

10. More satisfied at work

Among workers ages 30 to 45 with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 56% strongly agree that their jobs require them to keep learning new things. Among those with some college or an associate degree, 44% strongly agree with this statement, compared to just over 30% of those with a high school diploma. (2013, p. 21)

11. More likely to engage in education-related activities with their kids

Children are 20% more likely to be read to multiple times each week if their parents earned an advanced degree. The same children are 11% more likely to have visited a library in the last month. (2016, p. 39)


12. More revenue from taxes

Higher earnings from educated workers generate higher tax payments at all levels of government. Four-year college graduates pay 91% more in taxes each year than high school graduates. (2016, p. 8)

13. Less poverty

In 2015, 4% of bachelor’s degree recipients age 25 and older lived in poverty. 13% of high school graduates were reported to live in poverty. (2016, p.34)

14. Less reliance on welfare

In 2015, 8% of individuals age 25 and older with associate degrees and 11% of those with some college but no degree lived in households that benefited from [a government-assistance food program], compared with 13% of those with only a high school diploma. (2016, p.35)

In 2011, about a quarter of adult high school graduates and 43% of those without a high school diploma lived in households that received [government-assisted medical care]. Participation rates were 19% for those with some college but no degree, 17% for those with an associate degree, and 9% for those with at least a four-year college degree. (2013, p.26)

15. A more engaged citizenry

Among adults age 25 and older, 16% of those with a high school diploma volunteered in 2015. 39% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree reported volunteering in the same year. (2016, p. 40)

16. Increased voter participation

In the 2014 US midterm election, the voting rate of bachelor’s degree earners was more than twice as high as the voting rate of high school graduates. Similarly, the percentage of US citizens not registered to vote ranged widely. At the low end, 16% of those age 65 to 74 with at least a bachelor’s degree weren’t registered. This compared to 78% of those age 18 to 24 without a high school diploma. (2016, p. 41)

17. Increased productivity

In 2012, 67% of high school graduates and 82% of those with four-year college degrees were employed. (2013, p.18)

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