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3 Main Reasons Students Pursue A Higher Education Degree

This post celebrates graduation with some thoughts on the top three most highly discussed reasons for why we pursue a higher education degree (to all the recent graduates, congratulations!)

Reason 1: Money (increase in salary)

The most popularly discussed reason for attending higher education is the reported increase in salary upon graduation. In a study done by Astin (1985), it was found that 72% of U.S. college freshman, across the nation, chose 'increased earning power' to be the main benefit of a higher education degree, while 83% reported the main reason for attending college was to 'get a better job' (as cited by Becker, 1992), which past research has also found to be the case (Leslie, et al., 1997; Tannen, 1978).

However, other research shows that a higher salary may no longer be a concrete benefit to a higher education degree. Schmitt & Boushey (2012) point out an interesting trend: toward the end of the 1970s, college graduates earned 25% more than a high school graduate, and by the end of the 2000s, this number increased to as much as 60%- why, then, have the number of 25-34 year olds with a four-year college degree changed very little than the numbers from the 1980s and 1990s? Schmitt & Boushey (2012) identify four potential reasons for this occurrence:

Rising tuition costs: as most students and parents can attest to, tuition costs of higher education are through the roof! Student debt is higher than it has ever been, which could be contributing to students' hesitation to complete, or even begin, a college degree.

The financial aid shift from grants to student loans: universities are offering less grants or fellowships to students. A rise in tuition would not be so daunting if the likelihood of obtaining grants or fellowships was increased with tuition rates. 

Uncertainty of completion of 4 year degree: the number of students who are able to finish a higher education degree in 4 years has significantly decreased. The average age of college completion is 6 years, with 58% of students finishing at that time.

Older students have competing responsibilities: older students with families or job commitments are much less likely to attend higher education with schedules that are already demanding, particularly if there is potential for financial stress as well.

Additionally, contrary to the statistics reporting higher pay for college graduates, there are also a select number of students who experience significantly lower pay upon college graduation, who are earning less than recent high school graduates (Schmitt & Boushey, 2012). Students who are on the fence about whether or not to attend college might be negatively influenced by those recent graduates earning less than normal. This situation is particularly applicable to men, who have a small probability of earning just as much pay with only a high school degree than they would earn with a university degree (Schmitt & Boushey, 2012).

Reason 2: We're Expected To


The reason many of us pursue a degree in higher education is because for many of us, our peers, parents, and employers expect us to. People start thinking about higher education as young as elementary school (Wahl & Blackhurst, 2000), when career plans start to develop. A recent Gallup poll finds that parents' views on the importance of college education has increased over the past several decades (75% of parents in 2010 thought college was very important compared to 58% in 1983), with 92% of parents in 2010 thinking their child would go to college, compared to 82% in 1995, and 57% in 1982. This is important when considering students' decisions to go to college, as parental beliefs in higher education are the most important predictor to student academic achievement (Bogenschneider, 1997).

Reason 3: Social and Societal Outcomes

Outside of money and perceived expectations, why else do we, or should we, consider a higher education? Typically when talking about the benefits to college, we neglect the societal and personal growth benefits (Johnson, L.D., 2012) and instead get lost in the monetary costs and benefits. However, there are many other factors to consider on this discussion, such as the research that shows those who attend college are:

more likely to live longer,

less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated, 

are more likely to give back to the community, and perform better in the labor market (OECD, 2013). 

From a social perspective, students who go to college have access to more social networks, which tend to be varied and more diversely populated than those who do not attend college (OECD, 2013). This is important not only for individual growth, but also career development.

And finally, another consideration is that our democratic system relies on an educated population (Johnston, L.D., 2012). In order for this system to work, we need critically thinking, informed citizens as we progress into these increasingly interesting yet complex times. Empathy, creativity, and collaboration are all skills we've identified as being important in the 21st century, and they are being integrated into educational institutions across the world. Some students might be able to pursue these skills without the scaffolding of a university, while others need the guidance and structure of an institution. 

What were your reasons for attending college? For those of us still in school, have your reasons changed throughout your studies? 

1 comment:

  1. These reasons are so true, thank you for sharing. I completely agree that if you want to raise your standard of living higher education is essential. Of course it takes some time, a lot of effort and money to pursue a degree but it’s worth all that. Moreover there are numerous scholarship and grant programs to support you. One of my friends even gets custom college essays paper online and works part time to cover college expenses. Everything is possible if you do your best. Anyway, thanks for a great post, your blog is really inspiring!