What are the benefits of going to college? Since the passing of the GI Bill at the end World War II and the growth of the community college movement, politicians and educators have repeatedly debated the point. Is it worth the time and money? Who is benefiting, and how?
For many young adults, particularly those from low-income families, there are massive challenges associated with finishing a college degree. For these students, there is often a real need to generate an income immediately. They may also be deterred by the rising cost of college and student loans. Many low-income young adults must manage competing obligations, such as family and work-related responsibilities, that restrict their ability to enroll and complete college. They may be the primary income earner for the extended family, or may be working or single parents. According to the Association of American Community Colleges, 27% of full-time and 50% of part-time students work 40 hours a week or more, and 17% of students are single parents.
But the benefits of helping low-income students get a degree outweigh the difficulties. Graduates boast higher personal income, better health, and improved quality of life for children and family. As for society, an educated citizenry can result in an improved national economy, stronger workforce and innovations, increased civil participation, and decreased reliance on government financial support (for more information, see the Investment Payoff).
Recommitment to our investment in education–specifically for low-income students and other underserved students–is the key to securing our nation’s best future. Higher education provides a broad array of benefits to both individuals and society. Understanding the payoff that can result from investing in higher education could go a long way toward improving the prospects for economic development, social stability and individual prosperity.
Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D., is the president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, an independent, nonprofit organization that is dedicated to increasing access and success in postsecondary education around the world.