Our latest national poll on the value of higher education doesn’t beat around the bush. At a time when many Americans wonder if a college degree is worth it, the poll bluntly asks: What is education really for?
Overwhelmingly, people responded that their education has helped lead to greater well-being. In fact, life is better for college graduates in 50 out of 52 ways, says the new Lumina Foundation-Gallup poll, “Education for What?”. The results show that more years of education beyond high school make for healthier, more civic-minded people who vote, connect closely with their family and friends, and have good jobs with higher pay that build on their natural talents and interests.

These positive findings were true for all Americans, regardless of race and ethnicity. In fact, the link between education and meaningful work is especially high for Hispanic adults.

And there’s more:

  • The study shows a surprisingly strong link between health and education, with 60 percent of bachelor’s degree holders saying their health is excellent or very good, compared to 43 percent of people with no higher education. This holds true, even for older Americans.
  • More education opens the door to preferred careers. Americans with a bachelor’s (80 percent) or graduate (87 percent) degree say their job is a good fit for their talents and interests, compared to those with no (58 percent) or some (69 percent) education after high school. Plus, college graduates earn about $1 million more over their work years than adults with no degree.
  • Americans believe that higher education fosters greater innovation, including new scientific, medical, and technological discoveries (81 percent).
  • Younger adults become even more engaged in society: About 77 percent say more education leads to increased concerns about the environment, compared with 59 percent of adults ages 30 and older.

The survey found another interesting result: While more education didn’t increase acceptance of opposing political views – our nation’s deep divisions aren’t easily healed – it did sharply boost voting and political engagement, fostering a more informed citizenry. In fact, 87 percent of bachelor’s degree holders voted in the 2020 general election, versus 59 percent of adults with a high school degree.

With increasing evidence that learning beyond high school improves lives, we must ensure that many more Americans can reap those rewards. To make this a reality, we need to:

Now that we have the answer to “Education for What?,” let’s spread the word. As Americans keep learning, they may be surprised at all of the benefits it brings for good health and well-being, strong families, productive careers, and more informed citizens. It’s up to us to fulfill the promise of education for better lives.

[Courtney Brown, Ph.D., is vice president of impact and planning for Lumina Foundation, an independent foundation that works to help all Americans keep learning beyond high school. As chief data and research officer, Brown oversees Stronger Nation and assesses what those data mean for people and policies. Her partner on this project, Gallup, has been polling attitudes for more than 80 years. Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems.]

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