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why higher education is important

12 Reasons Why Higher Education Is Important

What is higher education? Well, higher education is considered the last step in formal education. It follows the achievement of a high school diploma and generally involves the completion of a degree. Most recognized definitions explain higher education within the confines of a college or university that awards degrees, and in some cases, certifications.

The Great Debate

Questions over the efficacy of a college degree continue to challenge the higher education community. Is it really worth the investment?

A college degree is expensive. There’s really no way around that fact. If you cut away the population of students who are going full-ride, you still have a substantial number of degree-seekers who will come out of college with insurmountable debt. It’s a terrifying fact that many use as reasoning not to pursue a degree.

But, let’s take a step back and think about college education as more than investing in a future job. Instead, let’s think of it in terms of what it affords — an opportunity to transform.  

The importance of Higher Education: 12 Reasons Why

The obvious.

Let’s start with the obvious — there is a serious wage gap between those with and without a degree. And that gap is projected to grow. In fact, a collective study by the Center on Education and Georgetown University found that people who hold a bachelor’s degree and work full-time earn 84% more in their lifetime than those with a high school diploma.

People with a college education also enjoy other benefits like health and life insurance, both of which lead to a longer lifespan. Thus, when evaluating the ROI for a college education, it’s important to look at the big picture. Over a lifetime, those with a degree simply earn more — whether that is money, benefits, or both.

The Future and AI

The job market is changing dramatically to match the growth of artificial intelligence. As technology becomes smarter and more sophisticated, companies are able to filter out certain roles in favor of automation. This means that jobs are changing. Roles that used to rely on human interaction are being replaced with artificial intelligence.

In wake of that change, there will be an increased demand in jobs that require an advanced understanding of AI technologies. Now, more than ever, it is important to invest in an education that can handle those needs. And yet, there are still other important skills to consider…

A Well-Rounded Dynamo

The job market can be very tough, and companies are actively looking for candidates with well-rounded educations.

It’s not enough to have a degree in engineering or math. Employers want their candidates to be well-spoken with strong proficiencies in communication and writing. They want employees who can deliver on their chosen disciplines, while also presenting impeccable soft skill knowledge. They want to see an engineer who has taken a couple of years of French, and they delight in finding a math major who minored in public communications.

It seems like a lot to ask for, and it is. But, the reasoning for this is actually quite simple. Companies want candidates who have a breadth of knowledge — knowledge that can serve them in any challenge. The strongest candidates are those who can demonstrate a robust repertoire of college classes, across several disciplines and structures. A college education enables students to build this complex list of skills.

Learning How to Think

Higher education isn’t just about earning a degree. If we step back and examine what a college experience entails, we can see that it is more than just attending classes and taking exams. In fact, higher education is about learning new ways of thinking and acquiring problem-solving skills.

Students are asked to reason outside of their comfort zones. They are taught to engage in critical thinking as both an individual and as a member of a classroom. In many cases, students are required to stretch their imagination in both oral and written works, often presented in front of their peers. In other words, a college education teaches students to think differently.

Outside of earning a degree, a student will graduate with new and improved skills in critical thinking, analytics, written and oral communication, and group problem-solving.

International Education

One of the more obvious benefits of a college education is the opportunity to study abroad.

Though not always compatible with every degree option, most schools with strong abroad programs are flexible in helping students pursue international study. We could dedicate a whole article to the benefits of studying abroad, but the most important takeaways are increased experience in global education, independence, language proficiency, and cross-cultural learning excursions that enhance classroom instruction.

Study abroad ranges in duration from a few weeks in the summer to an entire year, and many institutions offer special pricing for their programs. In some cases, an institution will have an established program abroad, that allows students to study at the same price of tuition as in their home campus. It is rare to have that kind of opportunity outside of a college education.

Immersive + Experiential Learning Opportunities

Today’s colleges and universities are investing a lot of time and energy into immersive and experiential learning opportunities . The future is hands-on! Students learn best when they have outside experiences to augment classroom instruction, and immersive and experiential learning takes students into real-world settings like practicums, hospitals, and internships. Within these professional environments, students can practice the theories they learn in the classroom.

They are also given new responsibilities that, on a smaller scale, match the work environment they are interested in. Finally, students can use these experiences to test their interest in their passions. Sometimes, an internship or practicum is all that a student needs to realize they do or do not want to pursue their chosen field of study.

Some colleges and universities allow undergraduate students to engage in research opportunities independently or alongside a professor. This is a huge benefit to students who are looking to gain some experience before pursuing a master’s degree, where research is almost always a requirement of the program.

In other cases, some schools actually require their undergraduates to complete a capstone or final thesis as a component of graduation. No matter what the circumstance — even if not conducted for the purpose of graduate school admittance — research teaches valuable skills in project management and writing etiquette. This kind of experience is very attractive to employers who are looking for evidence of dedication and personal discipline.

It cannot be overstated that alumni play a major role in the future of higher education. They give back to their communities, they provide gifts to their institutions, and in many cases, they offer up a network for students who are looking to land a job after college.

A strong alumni network can go a long way in the job search , with many alumni eager to help recent graduates find an opportunity within their field of study. Some institutions even invite their alumni to come back to campus and act as panel members for upperclassmen. Students are given the chance to ask vital questions about their industry, while alumni can offer up advice , information, and even networking opportunities.

Active Community Members

People with a college education are more likely to get involved in their community. It is also true that a degree informs on more than just one’s major. Higher education explores complex issues regarding health, the environment, business, and politics.

When students are educated to examine multiple issues, across several industries and disciplines, they learn to assess today’s problems from an interdisciplinary point of view.  It is that very skill within higher education that equips graduates to be more active community members and smarter voters.

Personal Growth and Independence

If we think of earning a degree within the traditional undergraduate track, we can consider a college education to be an important phase of independence and problem-solving.

Undergraduate students are inundated with pivotal changes, many of which take place outside of the classroom. Students must learn how to manage their time, how to deal with new people and roommates, how to talk to their professors, and how to navigate their new, social settings. Most importantly, students must gain the independence to make these decisions on their own.

A college education is so much more than tackling new challenges in the classroom. It’s about learning how to manage new-found independence in a way that is practical and safe.

True Passions

Some high schoolers know what they want to study in college. For those lucky few who have found their passions early in life, a college education is a necessary means to an end. For many other students who are on the fence about their chosen field of study, there is hope. A college education affords individuals the opportunity to discover their passions.

Most schools do not require their students to commit to a major right away, allowing for some freedom to explore different options. In fact, many first-year advisors strongly encourage their students to take as many interesting classes as possible. Institutions know that most incoming freshmen will encounter some confusion when it comes to selecting a field of study, so elective courses are offered up as a way to explore possible interests.

Clubs, Groups, and Extracurriculars

Colleges and universities are big on promoting extracurricular activities to strengthen resumes. They sometimes refer to this as an “activities resume.” Companies want to see that candidates spent their college days doing more than just studying. They want to see evidence of leadership and participation in clubs and organizations.

A college education allows students to get involved in these extra-curricular activities. So, even if a student is pursuing a degree in computer science, they can still demonstrate leadership experience by serving as a committee member for their fraternity or sorority. Students can also show off their participation in language clubs, community-service organizations, or simply groups dedicated to a certain passion.

Why Is Higher Education Important?

The world is changing. Technology is developing beyond our wildest dreams, and complex issues in business, environment, and politics continue to challenge our society. Higher education prepares students to meet these challenges with grit and determination.

A college education is more than classroom instruction. It is a holistic journey that explores facets of individuality, perseverance, and skill. A degree is about learning how to think, communicate, and deliver. More realistically, it can be considered as a transformation — from potential to realization.

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What’s the Value of Higher Education?

Have political and fiscal debates about higher education lost sight of the value of education for individuals and society? Dr. Johnnetta Cole discusses how universities can inform and inspire.

  • Dr. Johnnetta Cole President Emerita, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art; President Emerita, Spelman College and Bennett College

This interview was conducted at the Yale Higher Education Leadership Summit , hosted by Yale SOM’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute on January 30, 2018.

The value of a college degree can be measured in a number of different ways: increased lifetime earnings potential, a network of classmates and fellow alumni, subject-matter expertise, a signal of stick-to-itiveness, potentially a marker of class or the capacity to move across classes. There are also less tangible benefits, like becoming a more well-rounded individual and part of a well-informed public.

Yale Insights recently talked with Dr. Johnnetta Cole about how she measures the value of higher education. Cole is the former president of Spelman College and Bennett College, the only two historically black colleges and universities that are exclusively women’s colleges. After retiring from academia, she served as the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. In addition, she served on the boards of a number of corporations, including Home Depot, Merck, and Coca-Cola. She was the first African-American chair of the board for the United Way of America.

Q: Why does higher education matter?

I would say that we could get widespread agreement on what I’m going to call the first purpose of higher education: through this amazingly powerful process of teaching and learning, students come to better understand the world.

There might be some disagreement on the second purpose. I’d say it is to inspire students to figure out how they can contribute to helping to make the world better. Certainly, higher education is about scholarship, but it’s also about service. It’s about creativity. It’s about matters of the mind, but it’s also, or at least it should be, about matters of the heart and the soul.

Q: Has the public perception of universities changed in recent years?

Throughout the history—and herstory—of higher education, there have been doubters, those who have critiqued it. But I have a concern, and some polls tell us, in this period in which we are living, many people believe that higher education is not contributing in a positive way to American life.

That’s something that we need to work on, those of us who are deeply engaged in and care about higher education, because I think when one looks with as much objectivity as possible, the truth is, and it’s always been, that higher education contributes substantially.

Q: You’ve led two historically black colleges for women. What is the role of special mission institutions?

In my view, we still need special mission institutions. Remember Brandeis, Notre Dame, and Brigham Young are special mission institutions.

With respect to historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), not every African American wants to or does go to an HBCU. The same is true of women and women’s colleges. But for those who wish that kind of education, and if the fit is right, it’s almost magical.

I think it is as basic as having an entire community believe that you can. On these campuses, we believe that black students can do whatever they set their minds to do. On the women’s campuses, we believe that women can reach heights that have not been imagined for women.

HBCUs are not totally free of racism. Women’s colleges are not utopias where there are no expressions of gender inequality or sexism. But they come far closer than at our predominately white and co-ed institutions.

Q: One of the big issues with higher education now is cost. How do we solve the affordability problem?

The affordability question is highly complex and serious. James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.” I believe that this is a perfect example. Colleges and universities are not just raising tuitions so they can make big profits. Pell grants are no longer at least a reasonable response to the affordability question.

We’ve got to figure this out because, in a democracy, accessibility to education is fundamental. The idea that something as precious, as powerful, as a solid education is only accessible to some and not to others, is an assault upon democracy.

Q: You came out of retirement to lead the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Why was the draw so strong?

I’ve managed, systematically, to get a failing grade in retirement.

I grew up in the South, in the days of legalized segregation—you could also call it state-sponsored racism. I didn’t have access to symphony halls. I didn’t have access to art museums. I still remember the library that I went to in order to travel the world through books, was the A. L. Lewis Colored Public Library.

As a young girl, I fell in love with the visual arts, especially African and African-American art. I went off to Fisk University at age 15 and began to see the real works of art for which we only had reproductions in my home. From Fisk, I went to Oberlin, where the Allen Memorial Art Gallery was a special place of solace for me

The opportunity with the Smithsonian wasn’t something I sought; I was asked to apply. My doctorate is in anthropology, not art history, so I was reluctant, but they told me they were looking for a leader, not an art historian. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. The work was an almost indescribable joy.

Generally, our museums across America do not reflect who America is, nor do they reflect how our world looks. They need to be far more diverse in terms of their boards, staff, exhibitions, educational programs, and visitorship.

What the African art museum has is a unique opportunity because it can speak to something that binds us together. If one is human, just go back far enough, I mean way back, and we have all come from a single place. It is called Africa.

Here’s a museum that says to its visitors, “No matter who you are, by race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, ability or disability, or nationality, come to a place where the visual arts connect you to the very cradle of humanity.”

During those eight years when I had the joy of being the director of the National Museum of African Art, I would greet our visitors by saying “Welcome home! Welcome to a place that presents the diverse and dynamic, the exquisite arts of Africa, humanity’s original home.”

Q: Do you think that our education and cultural institutions are properly valued in our society?

I have to say no. Because if we did, we would take better care of them. If we did, we would make sure that not some but all of our educational institutions from kindergarten through post-secondary education, into graduate and professional schools, have the means to do what needs to be done.

If we really value all of our cultural expressions, whether it’s dance or music, visual arts, theater, when there is a budget shortfall, we wouldn’t say, “These are the first things to go.” We wouldn’t say, “Kids can do without music in their public school.” It’s one thing to say we love an institution; it’s another to care for and protect an institution. I think we can do far better.

Group of students working together

What you need to know about higher education

UNESCO, as the only United Nations agency with a mandate in higher education, works with countries to ensure all students have equal opportunities to access and complete good quality higher education with internationally recognized qualifications. It places special focus on developing countries, notably Africa. 

Why does higher education matter?  

Higher education is a rich cultural and scientific asset which enables personal development and promotes economic, technological and social change. It promotes the exchange of knowledge, research and innovation and equips students with the skills needed to meet ever changing labour markets. For students in vulnerable circumstances, it is a passport to economic security and a stable future. 

What is the current situation? 

Higher education has changed dramatically over the past decades with increasing enrolment, student mobility, diversity of provision, research dynamics and technology. Some 254 million students are enrolled in universities around the world – a number that has more than doubled in the last 20 years and is set to expand. Yet despite the boom in demand, the overall enrolment ratio is 42% with large differences between countries and regions. More than 6.4 million students are pursuing their further education abroad. And among the world’s more than 82 million refugees, only 7% of eligible youth are enrolled in higher education, whereas comparative figures for primary and secondary education are 68% and 34%, respectively ( UNHCR) . The COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted the way higher education was provided.

What does UNESCO do to ensure access for everyone to higher education? 

UNESCO's work is aligned with Target 4.3 of SDG 4 which aims, by 2030, “to ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university”. To achieve this, UNESCO supports countries by providing knowledge, evidence-based information and technical assistance in the development of higher education systems and policies based on the equal distribution of opportunities for all students. 

UNESCO supports countries to enhance recognition, mobility and inter-university cooperation through the ratification and implementation of the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education and regional recognition conventions . To tackle the low rate of refugee youth in higher education UNESCO has developed the UNESCO Qualifications Passport for Refugees and Vulnerable Migrants , a tool which makes it easier for those groups with qualifications to move between countries. The passport brings together information on educational and other qualifications, language, work history. UNESCO places a special focus on Africa with projects such as the Higher Technical Education in Africa for a technical and innovative workforce supported by China Funds-in-Trust.  

​​​​​​​How does UNESCO ensure the quality of higher education? 

The explosion in demand for higher education and increasing internationalization means UNESCO is expanding its work on quality assurance, helping Member States countries to establish their own agencies and mechanisms to enhance quality and develop policies particularly in developing countries and based on the Conventions. Such bodies are absent in many countries, making learners more vulnerable to exploitative providers.  

It also facilitates the sharing of good practices and innovative approaches to widen inclusion in higher education. As part of this work, it collaborates with the International Association of Universities to produce the World Higher Education Database which provides information on higher education systems, credentials and institutions worldwide. 

​​​​​​​How does UNESCO keep pace with digital change?  

The expansion of connectivity worldwide has boosted the growth of online and blended learning, and revealed the importance of digital services, such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Higher Education Management Information Systems in helping higher education institutions utilize data for better planning, financing and quality. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this transformation and increased the number of providers and the range of degree offerings from cross-border to offshore education.  The Organization provides technical support and policy advice on innovative approaches to widening access and inclusion including through the use of ICTs and by developing new types of learning opportunities both on-campus and online. 

How does UNESCO address the needs of a changing job market?

Labour markets are experiencing rapid changes, with increased digitization and greening of economies, but also the rising internationalization of higher education. UNESCO places a strong emphasis on developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, indispensable to sustainable development and innovation. It aims to strengthen skills development for youth and adults, particularly literacy, TVET, STEM and higher education to meet individual, labour market and societal demands.  

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why higher education is important

  • September 1, 2023
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Understanding the Value of Higher Education: Why is College Important?

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It’s perfectly natural for individuals to ponder, “Why is college important?” especially when witnessing people like Bill Gates, who achieved remarkable success without a college degree. However, it’s essential to recognize that while outliers like Gates exist, they are exceptions rather than the norm. For each individual who thrives without a degree, countless others face challenges due to a lack of necessary skills and knowledge to secure employment and navigate life successfully.

While surely unique paths can lead to success, pursuing a college education is often considered the most reliable and secure way to prosper. So, read on as we explore the many benefits of higher education while highlighting some valid concerns that individuals often have.

Why is College Important?


For most people, college is a crucial phase in their personal and intellectual growth journey. It is a period of self-discovery, diverse experiences, and knowledge acquisition, laying the foundation for future pursuits. It equips individuals with the tools to navigate the world’s complexities and pursue various aspirations. Below, we’ll highlight some key areas directly influenced by college, each contributing significantly to an individual’s development.

Career Opportunities and Earnings

Attending college and choosing the right major can lead to increased career opportunities as many professions require advanced degrees, which can be obtained through higher education. In fact, according to a report published in 2022 by the National Center for Education Statistics , individuals holding a college degree enjoy better employment opportunities than those with lower educational achievements. The study revealed that individuals with Bachelor’s degrees or advanced degrees exhibited higher employment rates than those who did not pursue higher education.

Skill Development and Specialization

Colleges provide a structured environment for students to gain specialized knowledge and develop the necessary skill sets for their chosen fields. Through rigorous academic programs, hands-on training, and exposure to the latest developments, colleges help prepare students to become experts and excel in their careers. Furthermore, by providing direct access to active researchers and industry practitioners as faculty staff, students are exposed to cutting-edge information, fostering innovation and adaptability.

Networking and Social Connections

Sometimes, who you know is as important as what you know. So, in addition to equipping you with knowledge and skills, colleges also offer excellent opportunities for you to create a network that can lead to internships, jobs, projects, or mentorship possibilities. From interacting with your peers and alums to learning from experienced teachers and meeting professionals in the field, you can build a good network in college, which can have a long-lasting positive impact on your career.

Contribution to the Community and Society

Colleges, in general, make substantial contributions to the community and society through groundbreaking research and innovation. They serve as hubs for discovery, where brilliant minds come together to solve pressing challenges and push the boundaries of knowledge — What if brain tumors could be treated painlessly at home without anesthesia? It might seem impossible, but researchers at Stanford Medicine are developing a small wireless device that one day could do just that. Johns Hopkins was the institute that ensured that the New Horizons spacecraft would go past Pluto, while MIT developed a heat engine with no moving parts. The possibilities are endless!

Personal Growth and Self-Sufficiency

Lastly, college is often a dynamic environment that imparts more than subject-specific knowledge. While students certainly gain expertise in their chosen fields, these institutions also assist students in cultivating essential life skills. In addition to mastering complex concepts, students learn the art of time management, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and various other areas. This way, colleges empower them with the practical skills and competencies necessary to succeed in a diverse and multifaceted world.

Criticism of Higher Education

Despite the evident significance and numerous advantages of higher education, certain factors can make individuals hesitant about pursuing college. Below, we’ll explore some common criticisms and concerns you might have regarding higher education.

Increased Cost of Tuition


Higher education faces substantial criticisms, particularly regarding the escalating tuition fees that burden students with long-term debt. Recent data shows that over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in tuition and fees for private National Universities, with a rise of 134%. Public Universities that charge out-of-state tuition and fees have experienced an even more substantial increase of 141%, whereas the sharpest growth has been observed in in-state tuition and fees, which have surged by 175%.

Adaptability to the Job Market

Amidst the rapidly evolving job markets, concerns regarding the adaptability of traditional degrees persist. Traditional college programs might not effectively equip graduates for the dynamic transformation of today’s job market, influenced by technological advances and changing industry landscapes. Understandably, students might hesitate to pursue college paths that do not align with current job demands or fail to provide skills needed in the market, potentially leading to difficulties securing relevant positions and necessitating ongoing upskilling to stay competitive.

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Strategies to Overcome Higher Education Challenges

Firstly, to ease the financial burden associated with tuition fees and student loans, we advise you to investigate scholarship opportunities and financial aid packages offered by colleges and external organizations. Scholarships can significantly reduce the overall cost of tuition and make higher education more affordable. Additionally, many institutions provide grants and work-study programs that offer financial assistance and the chance to gain work experience simultaneously.

Alternatively, you could also consider community colleges and online education options, which often offer more cost-effective pathways to earning a degree or completing prerequisite coursework.

On the other hand, in order to ensure adaptability to job market demands, it is best to research the program’s relevance before enrolling. Look for programs emphasizing practical skills, hands-on experience, and industry partnerships. You could also seek programs offering internships or cooperative education opportunities, as such experiences provide real-world exposure and help bridge the gap between academia and industry.

The key is to recognize that education does not end with a degree. So, be prepared to engage in ongoing learning, professional development, and upskilling to stay competitive in an ever-changing job landscape.

Is College Worth It?

The question of whether college is worth it or not is a complex topic that may yield different answers for different people. For many, the long-term value of a college degree extends beyond immediate financial gains, encompassing intellectual growth, expanded horizons, and the potential for lifelong learning.

When considering whether you should pursue college or not, it is essential to consider:

  • Short-term costs against long-term benefits
  • Your aspirations
  • Alternative paths to career success

While college undoubtedly offers numerous advantages, such as enhanced career prospects, skill development, and personal growth, the surge in tuition fees and uncertainties surrounding the usefulness of certain degrees have cast a shadow of doubt on the value of this investment. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that personal ambitions and circumstances mold the worth of college. The essence lies in making informed decisions that resonate with your long-term goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): 

What are the benefits of obtaining a college degree.

A college degree offers many benefits, including better job opportunities, increased earning potential ( see the highest-paying master’s degrees ), personal development, wider networking options, and more.

Do you need a college degree to have a promising future?

Although a college degree can lead to numerous opportunities, it is not the sole factor in securing a successful future. Depending on individual goals and circumstances, success may also be attained through vocational training, entrepreneurship , and skill development.

How does higher education contribute to better career opportunities?

Higher education equips individuals with specialized knowledge and skill sets that are often prerequisites for many professional roles. It also provides access to networking opportunities, internships, and other resources to enhance employability.

Is college necessary for acquiring specialized skills in a particular field?

Yes, college is essential for acquiring specialized skills in a particular field. Their academic programs and practical training opportunities help students gain the expertise and proficiency required for success in specific industries.

How does a college education impact one’s contribution to society?

College education has a profound impact on society by imparting knowledge, critical thinking, and ethical values. It also serves as a hub for research and innovation, driving technological advancements, healthcare, sustainability, and more.

What are the counterarguments against the significance of higher education?

Some counterarguments include the rising tuition costs and the practical relevance of certain degrees in today’s rapidly changing industries.

What are the long-term implications of investing in higher education?

Investing in higher education can lead to increased earning potential, improved job stability, and personal growth. However, student loan debt and the rapidly changing job landscape require careful consideration when evaluating the long-term financial implications.

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American Higher Education: An Obligation to the Future

By vartan gregorian, president, carnegie corporation of new york.

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In recent years, there has been a debate raging among policymakers, students, educators, concerned parents, and many others about the purpose of higher education: is it meant to help develop an inquiring mind and a deep appreciation for the value of how knowledge enriches one’s lifelong personal and professional achievements or should it be simply focused on gaining the skills to pursue a well-paying career? In other words, we seem to have divided higher education into a black-and-white scenario in which either an individual becomes a sort of pie-in-the-sky dreamer, well-read and able to quote great thinkers but probably starving in a garret while unable to get a decent job, or else he or she graduates from college and immediately plunges into the world of technologically complex, high-stakes, high-financial-reward work and becomes a “great success.”

Perhaps the time has come to reconsider that either-or proposition about higher education. The issue is too complex to be addressed in such a simplified manner. For example, as a new study 1 from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) reports, “Students, parents, and policymakers interested in the ‘return on investment’ of college education [often assume] that a major in a liberal arts field has a negative effect on employment prospects and earnings potential.” But the AACU study makes clear there is compelling evidence that a liberal arts degree continues to be a sound investment, especially in these difficult economic times. The facts show that compared to students who major in professional, preprofessional, or STEM fields, liberal arts majors fare very well in terms of both earnings and long-term career success.

The specifics are indeed eye-opening. They reveal that over the long-term, humanities graduates actually fare better than their peers who are focused on particular professional fields. Upon graduating from college, those who majored in the humanities and social science made, on average, $26,271 in 2010 and 2011, slightly more than those in science and mathematics but less than those in engineering and in professional and pre-professional fields. However, by their peak earning age of 56 to 60, these individuals earned $66,185, putting them about $2,000 ahead of professional and pre-professional majors in the same age bracket. 2 Further, employers want to hire men and women who have the ability to think and act based on deep, wide-ranging knowledge. For example, the report finds that 93 percent of employers agree that candidates’ demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major, and 55 percent said that what they wanted from potential employees was both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of knowledge and skills. Even more evidence of hiring managers’ interest in richly educated individuals is the finding that four out of five employers agree that all students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences. 3

Students do not have to make artificial choices between what they want to know about the world and the skills they need to succeed in it.

All this is heartening news in that it reminds us that the current generation of students—and those who follow after them—do not have to make artificial choices between what they want to know about the world and the skills they need to succeed in it. But there are some who are still not persuaded of this. In fact, it is interesting to note there is yet another choice that various pundits have recently suggested students should consider—not going to college at all. The rationale behind that notion is that while the knowledge gained in college and university classrooms may be both wonderful and enlightening, it is not necessarily useful in “real life.” That seems an empty argument to me and one that is refuted, for instance, by a quick glance at a recent list of the Forbes 400 richest people in America, which shows that 84 percent hold postsecondary degrees. Similarly, of the Fortune 500 CEOs, 93 percent have a college degree—many in the humanities and social sciences. The success of these individuals and others underscores a point I have often made to students: that one of the immeasurable values of a liberal arts education is how it can open up a world of possibilities, including life and career paths to follow that might otherwise have seemed unimaginable to a young man or woman just starting out. But that is a wonderful challenge for someone who is motivated to explore their own potential: after all, if the only purpose of education is to train an individual for a specific job or skill, life would be much simpler—and, I might add, perhaps much less interesting.

With all that said, it remains clear that increasing our expertise in technology and related fields is critical to the progress of our society. Nevertheless, it is still useful to remind ourselves that the greatest service technology can provide us is as an adjunct to knowledge, not as a replacement for it. Technology by itself is not a creator of content. Though the Internet and all the technological devices that now connect us to it have made it possible for much of humanity to have access to a virtual Library of Alexandria, access alone does not equal knowledge. The ability to carry around the entire corpus of Greek literature on an iPhone or some similar device may be astonishing, but that does not mean that the individual who possesses such a device actually knows anything about Greek literature. One still has to read. One still has to listen and see with one’s own eyes. One still has to ponder ideas, explore the realms of both material and spiritual knowledge, and discuss these matters with other people.

It is still useful to remind ourselves that the greatest service technology can provide us is as an adjunct to knowledge, not as a replacement for it.

In that connection, I would argue that the deep-seated yearning for knowledge and understanding endemic to human beings is an ideal that a liberal arts education is singularly suited to fulfill. Albert Einstein, in his inimitable fashion, went right to the heart of the matter, asserting that the practical men and women among us try to explain all phenomena by cause and effect. But, Einstein said, “This way of looking at things always answers only the question ‘Why?’ but never the question, ‘To what end?’” 4 To search for even a glimpse of the answers to such great philosophical conundrums one needs to know not only what is taught in a classroom, but also how to think for oneself.

Of course, one also has to know history, particularly the history of one’s own nation. In that regard, as Americans, we have an obligation, as citizens to whom the future of our country has been entrusted, to understand the obstacles we have faced in the past and both the problems and opportunities that lie ahead. As Benjamin Franklin said, issuing a still-timely challenge in response to a query at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, what the Founding Fathers had created was “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Keep it we must, and we will, but to do so we need an informed and educated citizenry who can take full advantage of the almost 4,200 colleges and universities in our country, including some 1,700 public and private two-year institutions. And let me point out that computers and Web sites have yet to put those colleges and universities out of business. Why is this? Because of one simple reason: we are not a virtual society yet. Not yet. Human beings, by their very nature, are rational, spiritual, and social beings. They are not abstractions. They are not socioeconomic, consumer or entertainment units destined to be confined inside the small world of their cubicles and subject to what I call “cubicle alienation.” Even though people can watch almost any movie they want on-demand from their cable service or on DVDs, men and women still go to movie houses to share the experience of being immersed in a story told through sound and images in the company of other human beings. People have Bibles, Talmuds, and Korans in their homes but they still go to churches, synagogues, and mosques to share their common bonds and traditions. People need to be part of a community—and for many, the college classroom provides an invaluable experience of community and collaboration.

The diversity of talents, interests and aims of the men and women who look to higher education to help them reach their goals is mirrored by the diversity of our colleges and universities, from which our system of higher education draws great strength. Individual institutions have traditionally emphasized different local, regional, national and international needs by providing educational opportunities to diverse populations, expanding scientific and technical knowledge, providing opportunities for continuing education, and other means.

But that certainly wasn’t always the case. Higher education was actually available to only a small proportion of America’s population until Congress enacted the Land Grant College Act in 1862. This legislation—the first Morrill Act—which was, astonishingly passed in the middle of the Civil War (making it clear how strongly both President Lincoln and Congress felt about the importance of education, as well as about the future of the nation) in effect, put universities where the people were. The Act not only provided much greater access to higher education, it also promoted specialized training and spurred the development of both theoretical knowledge and its practical application. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the Morrill Act helped to provide the research and the educated work-force that were desperately needed in agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Today, there are new challenges, and one of the greatest facing higher education is how to protect the diversity of our colleges and universities at a time when it seems that instead of emphasizing variety and competition—which affects all aspects of higher education, from recruiting students to developing curricula—there is a worrisome trend towards uniformity. Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University, expressed similar ideas in a recent op-ed 5 in which he discusses how higher education must begin to respond to an increasingly diverse student body, with different needs, different goals, and different expectations. His particular emphasis is on the growing number of students who are not following the path directly from high school graduation to the college campus. As he points out, “The ‘traditional’ college student aged 18 to 22 is no longer the norm. Many people still think that the typical college student is an 18- to 22-year-old who’s attending a four-year residential institution. But according to some estimates, nontraditional students—returning adults, part-time students, midcareer professionals, and every other permutation of learner—now make up 85 percent of all undergraduates.”

The diversity of talents, interests and aims of the men and women who look to higher education to help them reach their goals is mirrored by the diversity of our colleges and universities.

I believe that startling statistic helps to provide an answer to the question with which I began this essay: is there a value to the kind of education that promotes the ability to become a lifelong learner? Clearly, the answer is a resounding yes, if education is going to be a resource available to all Americans that can parallel their path through life, if that is what they need. Noted author and Columbia University professor Andrew Delblanco addresses similar concerns in his recent book, College: What It Was, Is, And Should Be 6 , suggesting that higher education should offer more to students than a rigid curriculum and a lock-step parade towards a degree. As he suggests, though more and more students are going to college with “the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential” (a phenomenon he attributes to the accelerating commercialization of American higher education), guiding young men and women down this path is a mistake. In fact, he argues, it means that they are losing the chance to experience the traditional—and wonderful—attributes of the undergraduate years, “an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers…” He also worries that this kind of multi-faceted, aspirational education is in danger of becoming available only to the wealthy and privileged, which would would pose a great danger to the progress of American society. While science, technology, engineering, and math play an increasingly prominent role in our globalized economy, innovation still requires original and imaginative thinking. The new discoveries that will improve the living conditions, health, and welfare of men, women, and children around the world will not be found without those who have the education to work toward those discoveries. And if we do not nurture the talent among us, who will provide literature and art and music for ages yet to come?

These are some of the purposes for which we, as a society, created, supported, and continue to value a liberal arts-oriented college education. As W.E.B. DuBois said, “The true college will ever have one goal—not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes.” 7

For myself, I believe that the immeasurable value of American higher education and the potential it has to open doors to a future of one’s own making is the proverbial pearl beyond price that we must all cherish. That is one of the reasons I am so gratified that some of our nation’s most eminent university leaders, along with prominent scientists, engineers, and others are sharing their thoughts and ideas about higher education in this special edition of the Carnegie Reporter . I am pleased to be able to contribute to their work by including an address I gave to the President’s Council of the University of Tokyo (below), of which I am a member.

In many ways—and I can attest to this from personal experience—education is the bridge that allows us to travel from where we are to that further place where we can become who we want to be and do all the wonderful things we might otherwise only dream of. Whatever we can do as educators and citizens to strengthen that bridge is an obligation to the future that we all share.

Presentation by Vartan Gregorian to The Seventh President’s Council of the University of Tokyo

June 8, 2010.

why higher education is important

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U.S. colleges and universities enroll more than 19 million students and annually grant nearly 3 million degrees. Higher education employs more than 3.6 million people, including 2.6 million faculty, in what amounts to a more than $380 billion business.

The diversity of our education system gives it strength, great strength. Individual institutions have traditionally emphasized different functions that have complemented each other by addressing different local, regional, national, and international needs. They also provide educational oppotunities to diverse populations by expanding scientific and technical knowledge, and providing opportunities for continuing education, and also opening their doors to the world. Until several years ago, two-thirds of all students from foreign countries studying abroad were in the United States; two-thirds of the entire international student body that went abroad studied in the United States.

In the last century, enrollment in American higher education grew from 4 percent of the college-age population in 1900 to almost 70 percent by the year 2000. Our student body, moreover, is incredibly diverse. Following a long period of little or no growth in total enrollment, the nation’s institutions of higher education are now seeing the biggest growth spurt since the baby boom generation arrived on campus in 1960.

Between 1995 and 2015, enrollments are expected to increase 16 percent, and one-third of the increase will be members of minority groups. By 2015, minority enrollment is anticipated to rise by almost 30 percent to 2 million in absolute numbers, representing almost 38 percent of undergraduate education.

Clearly there is a strong case to be made for the fact that American higher education is a vital and successful endeavor. But let me take a few moments here to review its history and highlight several aspects of higher education in the United States in order to understand the underpinnings of its success.

The first major opportunity for the expansion of American higher education came in 1862. Even in the middle of the Civil War, and despite the fact that 500,000 people died in the greatest tragedy of American history, President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities throughout the United States. The Morrill Act coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and it helped to establish universities just about everywhere the people of the United States were, and where they needed institutions of higher education that addressed their particular needs. Some of our current universities grew from these roots such as the University of California, Irvine, which deals with agriculture; in Wisconsin, the state university includes a focus on the fact that the dairy industry is important; in Minnesota, the mining industry, and on and on. Because of the needs of the state, the resources of states were tapped at the time and folded into the educational curriculum.

The second most important revolution that happened, in addition to land-grant universities—which, by the way, have produced, since their inception, some 20 million degrees— was the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences. Again, it is remarkable to note that Lincoln had such faith in the strength and continuity of the U.S. that in 1863, while the Civil War raged on, President Lincoln signed another piece of landmark legislation—a law that created the National Academy of Sciences. The Academy, which was established to advise Congress on “any subject of science or art,” has done that job well and expanded to include the National Research Council, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

It was not until World War II, though, that the federal government began supporting university research in a significant way. Prior to that, research was done in Europe and in corporate laboratories. To strengthen U.S. growth in science, President Franklin Roosevelt established a commission headed by Vannevar Bush, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His landmark report was published in 1945 and adopted by President Truman. In this piece, a beautiful report entitled Science: The Endless Frontier , Bush noted that the business of industry naturally took the lead in applied research but was deterred by marketplace considerations from conducting pure research. Bush argued that it was the federal government’s responsibility to provide adequate funds for basic research, which pioneers the frontiers of human knowledge for the benefit of society. He also wrote that the nation’s universities were, by their very nature, best suited to take the lead in conducting basic research. Public funding, he said, would promote competition among researchers and projects could be selected on the merits through a peer review process. Bush suggested a federal agency should oversee the program, and Congress created the National Science Foundation to do the job in 1950.

The agency got off to a slow start, but after October 1957, when Sputnik was launched, support for science, science education, and basic research rose rapidly. From 1960 to 1966, federal spending on research not associated with defense leapt from $6 billion a year to almost $35-$40 billion. Until recent years, federal investment in research rarely fell below $20 billion a year, and much of this money went to universities. Giving the universities—that’s the difference— giving the universities the lead in basic research turned out to be a brilliant policy. Instead of being centralized in government laboratories as science tended to be in other parts of the world, scientific research became decentralized in American universities. This policy spurred a tremendous diversity of investment. It also gave graduate students significant research opportunities and helped spread scientific discoveries far and wide for the benefit of industry, medicine, and society as a whole.

Another revolutionary phase in American higher education came about in 1944 and was known as the GI Bill of Rights. This legislation ranks up there in importance with the Morrill Act because the law, enacted at the height of World War II, opened the doors of America’s best colleges and universities to tens of thousands of veterans returning from the battlefields, ordinary Americans who had never dreamt of going to college, and who were now actually being encouraged to do so by their government. The G.I. Bill made an already democratic system of higher education even more democratic in ways that were simply inconceivable in Europe and other parts of the world. In the following decades, the GI Bill—and its legislative offspring enacted during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and now Iraq and Afghanistan—have resulted in the public investment of more than $60 billion in education and training for about 18 million veterans, including 8.5 million in higher education. Currently, the United States offers an education benefit as an incentive for people to join its all-voluntary military forces.

Shortly after World War II, in 1946, Congress also created the prestigious Fulbright scholarships, which all of you are familiar with, and which have been enormously successful. All in all, there have been some 235,000 American and foreign Fulbright scholars—146,000 alone from countries other than the U.S. The program was created, by the way, as one of the best ways of investing in international education.

The noted sociologist David Riesman said that the greatest contribution to the American economy in the post-war period was the liberation of women.

In 1947, the democratization of higher education was advanced when the President’s Commission on Higher Education recommended that public education be made available up to the 14th grade, thus opening the door to the development of community colleges, or two-year colleges, which are now playing a major role in American higher education, but also point to some of the problems I will discuss later.

In a more recent effort to promote international cooperation and security, Congress enacted the National Security Act of 1991, which provides scholarships for undergraduates and graduate students to study many of the less well-known languages and cultures in key regions of the world, including East Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, not to mention Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Africa.

Another major landmark was the creation of federal loan grant guarantees and subsidy programs as well as outright grants for college students. In the decades since its founding in 1965, the Federal Family Education Loan Program has funded more than 74 million student loans worth more than $180 billion. And in the years since the 1973 Pell Grant program—named after Senator Claiborne Pell— was created, more than $100 billion in grants have been awarded to an estimated 30 million postsecondary students.

Last but not least, let me add something important about Pell grants: when they were proposed, there was a big debate about whether to give the money to university presidents or to give it directly to students so the funds would be portable. It was decided—in fact, Clark Kerr of University of California who led the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education recommended—that the money be designated as portable by students because this would create competition among universities. Many of Clark Kerr’s friends stopped talking to him after that recommendation, including his president. Thus, we can see that land-grant universities, the National Academy of Sciences, the GI Bill, Pell grants, and a host of other innovative strategies for advancing American higher education and increasing access to colleges and universities played a major role in enriching and expanding American education at the college and university level.

Naturally, the civil rights movement in the United States and the end of formal, legal discrimination also contributed to advancing higher education and educational access. In this connection, I should mention that my late friend, the noted sociologist David Riesman, said that the greatest contribution to the American economy in the post-war period was the liberation of women. He was right, because today, almost 54-58 percent of students enrolled in American higher education are women and that, along with the advancement of minorities—especially Asians and African Americans—is truly revolutionary.

Now, let me turn to the problems facing American higher education. There are many things I can talk about. Problem number one is that when there was no competition, America could afford duplication in its higher education. The nation could afford to have thousands of colleges and universities because they provided educated leaders and skilled labor, but at the same time, unskilled workers—those who could not afford higher education or even dropped out of school, could still find jobs in manufacturing and so on, but today, that’s not the case. So duplication in education is no longer affordable, and quality has become very important and a key to competition among educational institutions.

Perhaps the second most important problem is the state of public universities which, as I indicated earlier, were created to be funded by public sources. Private institutions had to rely on private sources, on philanthropy. And parenthetically, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, philanthropy is a big deal in the United States. Annually some $350 billion dollars in philanthropic giving is disbursed by Americans, and not only the rich; 70 percent of those sums come from families with incomes of less than $100,000 dollars a year. Giving has become an American phenomenon. Even during presidential campaigns and debates, candidates now have to reveal the amounts of their philanthropic giving because otherwise they will be known as being stingy, being cheapskates.

But now, the barriers between public and private funding of universities have all but disappeared. Both private and public universities seek support from private sources as well as from the public, with one major difference: when I came as a freshman to Stanford University in 1956, tuition and fees were $750 dollars at Stanford, $50 dollars at the University of California, Berkeley—yes, 50, five-oh. Now, all the costs have gone astronomically high. Colleges and universities have to keep up with inflation and support the costs of laboratories; technology; of stocking their libraries; building and maintaining dormitories and other facilities; paying for athletics; paying for health and other types of insurance; providing health, food, counseling and other services; legal and government affairs departments, public affairs departments, etc. In short, universities, nowadays, are like city states. But what has changed over the years is that individual states can no longer afford by themselves to pay for public higher education. For example, I’m told that today, only 8 or 9 percent of the funding needed for the University of Michigan comes from the state of Michigan; in Missouri, it’s 9-10 percent; Maryland, 9-10 percent; etc. The rest has to come from tuition, fees, federal research grants, federal loans and grants as well as philanthropy, which was not how the system of supporting public higher education was supposed to work.

In addition, when Pell grants were inaugurated, there were two components: loans and outright grants. As time has passed, the proportion of loans and grants has changed so that today, more loans are given than grants. Hence, students often have to borrow money to pay back the loans, and if they are unable to pay their debts or go into bankruptcy as a result of their debt burden, this will adversely affect their future, including their ability to find jobs and advance in their careers. If, on the other hand, they take jobs with low pay and because of their low salaries remain unable to pay their loans, it discourages some people from embarking on careers where the financial rewards are not great but the mission is important to society and the nation. As a former teacher myself, I have first-hand experience of that type of situation. If you become a teacher with a $30,000-a-year salary and you have to pay six-to-ten thousand a year for your college debt, especially if you get a higher degree, that’s a very serious challenge.


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So these are some of the problems. But there is still another that is among the most important of all, and that is the following: we all agree that what makes universities great is the quality of their faculties. I have always believed that the faculty is the bone marrow of the university. Students come and go, administrators come and go—even visionary leaders, though they be few and far between, come and go—but a university’s faculty provides continuity. In that connection, the challenge is that many universities cannot afford to maintain or recruit high-quality faculty nor can they have the same number of top-level faculty that they did in the past. As a result, they resort to replenishing their ranks with adjunct and part-time faculty. Part-time faculty size has increased from 22 to almost 40 percent in many universities, making the overall quality of their faculty questionable. I’m not referring to the Harvards, Princetons, Yales and others of that rank; I’m talking about those small colleges and public universities that cannot afford to maintain an excellent faculty roster and so must rely on part-timers in order to preserve themselves during difficult financial times. Remember, when you have part-time faculty, you save money because you don’t have to give them offices, or provide benefits or sabbaticals or other types of resources. It’s almost like piece-work is being introduced into higher education.

One of the greatest challenges facing our society is how to distinguish between information, which may be true, false or some tangled combination of both, and real knowledge.

In addition, naturally, during times of financial crisis such as we find ourselves in now, another challenge that arises is that there is a growing impulse to do what is expedient, such as reducing the number of academic units required to graduate. Hence, I am not surprised that once again there are also voices raised, asking why can’t the time required for BA and other degrees be reduced to three years? After all, some say, Oxford started with four years and then reduced it to three. Harvard copied the four-year system and it has been with us since the beginning of the higher education system in the U.S., but why does it have to remain that way? Let’s reduce it. Quality, depth and richness of education don’t seem to factor into these suggestions.

This brings me to what may be the core crisis facing higher education today, and that is the onslaught of information that now accosts almost every human being in our borderless, always tuned in, always connected and interconnected globalized world. Perhaps nowhere is this flood of information more apparent than in the university—particularly in the United States. Never mind that much of the information is irrelevant to us and unusable. No matter, it still just keeps arriving in the form of books, monographs, periodicals, web sites, instant messages, social networking sites, films, DVDs, blogs, podcasts, e-mails, satellite and cable television shows and news programs, and the constant chirping of our Blackberries and smart phones—which, by the way, I hope you have turned off, if just for now!

While it is true that attention to detail is the hallmark of professional excellence, it is equally true that an overload of undigested facts is a sure recipe for mental gridlock. Not only do undigested facts not constitute structured knowledge but, unfortunately, the current explosion of information is also accompanied by its corollary pitfalls, such as obsolescence and counterfeit knowledge.

And, if you will indulge me for sacrificing the English language for a moment, another phenomenon we are confronting is the “Wikipediazation” of knowledge and education. At least in part, this is a result of the fact that we are all both givers and takers when it comes to running the machinery of the Information Age, particularly the virtual machinery. I am talking, of course, about the Internet. Let me tell you about a notorious event involving Wikipedia that has come to represent how easily false information can virally infect factual knowledge. What has come to be known as the Seigenthaler Incident began in 2005 when a false biography of the noted journalist Robert Seigenthaler, Sr., who was also an assistant to Robert Kennedy when he was Attorney General in the 1960s, was posted on Wikipedia. Among the scurrilous “facts” in the biography were that “For a short time, [Seigenthaler] was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”

This horrendous misinformation—represented as truth— existed on Wikipedia for 132 days before Seigenthaler’s son, also a journalist, happened upon it and called his father. Seigenthaler, Sr. then had Wikipedia remove the hoax biography, but not before the same false facts had migrated to many other sites. Probably, somewhere in the estimated 30 billion online pages, it still exists. Wikipedia has taken steps to address this problem, but estimates are that there may be somewhere around two million distinct sites on the Internet, with more being created all the time, and there is no central authority, no group, individual or organization to oversee the accuracy of the information they purvey.

Clearly, therefore, one of the greatest challenges facing our society and contemporary civilization is how to distinguish between information—which may be true, false, or some tangled combination of both—and real knowledge. And further, how to transform knowledge into the indispensable nourishment of the human mind: genuine wisdom. As T. S. Eliot said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Today’s universities—along with our colleges, libraries, learned societies and our scholars—have a great responsibility to help provide an answer to Eliot’s questions. More than ever, these institutions and individuals have a fundamental historical and social role to play in ensuring that as a society, we provide not just training but education , and not just education but culture as well. And that we teach students how to distill the bottomless cornucopia of information that is ceaselessly spilled out before them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, into knowledge that is relevant, useful, and reliable and that will enrich both their personal and professional lives.

This is not an easy task, especially in a nation where, as Susan Jacoby writes in her recent book, The Age of American Unreason , “the scales of American history have shifted heavily against the vibrant and varied intellectual life so essential to functional democracy. During the past four decades, America’s endemic anti-intellectual tendencies have been grievously exacerbated by a new species of semiconscious anti-rationalism, feeding on and fed by an ignorant popular culture of video images and unremitting noise that leaves no room for contemplation or logic. This new form of anti-rationalism, at odds not only with the nation’s heritage of eighteenth-century Enlightenment reason but with modern scientific knowledge, has propelled a surge of anti-intellectualism capable of inflicting vastly greater damage than its historical predecessors inflicted on American culture and politics.”

What Jacoby so forcefully points out is that ignorance is absolutely not bliss when both the strength of our democracy and the future of our society is at stake. And it may well be, for not only are we distracted and overwhelmed by the explosion of images, news, rumor, gossip, data, information and knowledge that bombard us every day, we also face dangerous levels of fragmentation of knowledge, dictated by the advances of science, learning, and the accumulation of several millennia of scholarship. Writing about the fragmentation of knowledge and the advent of specialization, it was not so long ago that Max Weber criticized the desiccated narrowness and the absence of spirit of the modern specialist. It was also this phenomenon that prompted Dostoevsky to lament in The Brothers Karamazov about the scholars who “…have only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole and, indeed, their blindness is marvelous!” In the same vein, José Ortega y Gasset, in his Revolt of the Masses , as early as the 1930s, decried the “barbarism of specialization.” Today, he wrote, we have more scientists, scholars and professional men and women than ever before, but fewer cultivated ones. To put the dilemma in 21st century terms, I might describe this as everybody doing their own thing, but nobody really understanding what anybody else’s thing really is.

Unfortunately, the university, which was conceived of as embodying the unity of knowledge, has become an intellectual multiversity. The process of both growth and fragmentation of knowledge underway since the seventeenth century has accelerated in our time and only continues to intensify. The modern university consists of a tangle of specialties and sub-specialties, disciplines and sub-disciplines, within which specialization continues apace. The unity of knowledge has collapsed. The scope and the intensity of specialization are such that scholars and scientists have great difficulty in keeping up with the important yet overwhelming amount of scholarly literature of their own sub-specialties, not to mention their general disciplines. Even the traditional historical humanistic disciplines have become less and less viable as communities of discourse. As the late professor Wayne C. Booth put it wistfully in a Ryerson lecture he gave more than twenty years ago that still, sadly, sounds like breaking news from the education front: Centuries have passed since the fateful moment…when the last of the Leonardo da Vincis could hope to cover the cognitive map. [Now], everyone has been reduced to knowing only one or two countries on the intellectual globe…[In our universities] we continue to discover just what a pitifully small corner of the cognitive world we live in.

In that regard, I would add that this fragmentation of knowledge into more and more rigid, isolated areas is contributing to a kind of lopsidedness in the way education is organized and a growing disconnect between value-centered education and the kind of training that is aimed specifically at career preparation. What is hopeful is that there is a growing realization among the leaders of the nation’s higher education sector that this lopsided system of education is both deficient and dangerous, that we need a proper balance between preparation for careers and the cultivation of values, that general and liberal education is the thread that ought to weave a pattern of meaning into the total learning experience, that unless such a balance is restored, career training will be ephemeral in applicability and delusive in worth; and value education will be casual, shifting and relativistic. I strongly believe that one of the great strengths of American higher education is that it is home for liberal arts education, which is a sound foundation for all the professions and professional schools.

Ignorance is absolutely not bliss when both the strength of our democracy and the future of our society is at stake.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of a lively feeling for values. He or she must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and the morally good. Otherwise he or she—with his or her specialized knowledge—more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person.” That is why I believe, and every year, whether I was a Dean, President or Provost of a University, I always reminded incoming freshmen to remember the famous line in Sheridan’s Critic (1799), that the number of those who undergo the fatigue of judging for themselves is precious few. It is the task of higher education to increase the number of those who do undergo that fatigue.

To sum up, it seems to me that by trying to reduce the requirements for a degree and at the same time, expecting to be able to break down education into specialized parts— each part swollen to overflowing with endlessly and exponentially increasing amounts of data and information—we are going in absolutely the wrong direction. Why? Because all this pushing and pulling and compartmentalizing presupposes that somehow, one’s education will eventually be finished, that it will come to an end where an individual can say, now I’ve graduated and I don’t have to learn anymore . But of course, you never graduate from your life and hence, you never really graduate from learning. One’s “formal” education is really just an introduction to learning where the skills to go on educating oneself are acquired and inculcated into everyday life—because learning is a lifelong endeavor. In that connection, when I was president of Brown, one day I decided, as a joke or as an ironic act, to propose awarding two kinds of degrees, one certifying that you know the following subjects, the other one certifying the subjects that you know, but most thought it was a crazy idea because parents would say, we paid you to educate our sons and daughters and instead, you’re giving us an uneducated person. So I decided that we’d just say the BA degree was, as I’ve described above, an introduction to learning, an undertaking that must be carried on throughout all the years of one’s life.

One of the greatest strengths of American higher education is that it is home for liberal arts education, which is a sound foundation for all the professions and professional schools.

In order to further make my point about lifelong learning, let me share this one last story with you. Some years ago, when asked to give a major speech to an illustrious gathering at Southern Methodist University, instead of a speech, I gave an exam. I said, imagine that you are the last person on earth. Nothing is left, no monuments, no other human beings, no libraries, no archives and hence, you are the best-educated person on the planet. Suddenly, the Martians land and they want to debrief you, the last human being standing, so they can preserve the history of humanity and the civilizations of the planet Earth. They begin by asking you questions such as: We heard that you had some objects that could fly, but that’s such an antiquated mode of transportation, so can you explain to us the principles by which these objects were made to fly? After all, your society awarded PhDs and MDs and all kinds of other degrees to people like yourself, so can you just prepare a schematic for us about these flying things? And we also heard that you had some kind of ships that could travel under water, but how was that possible? We also heard that you were able to phone each other, and despite mountains and oceans and so forth, you could talk to each other across thousands of miles; how did that work? And, oh yes, we’d also like to have the maps of all the continents, so can you draw them for us? Please include all the nations along with rivers, counties, capitals, and so forth. After all, we understand that you are an educated person, so these things should be easy for you.

Then I said to the gathering—still speaking on behalf of the head Martian—there’s another subject we Martians want to know about. We have a long list of the names of the religions that people on Earth followed, and they were well-represented in the United States. We don’t quite understand the differences between these religions and why you argued about them century after century. Here is just part of the list we have: Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, the Baha’i faith, and then the different forms of Christianity: Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Southern Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Amish, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Greek Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox. Could you please pick five of these and tell us where they agree and where they disagree? Of course, there was dead silence in the audience. So I concluded my “exam” by saying, I thank you for not being the last man or woman on Earth, because education is a life-long experience and endeavor, and I believe you might have some catching up to do…! In a way, perhaps we all have constant “catching up” to do when it comes to finding ways to address the many challenges facing our colleges and universities. But we will find them, I am sure, because in the words of Henry Rosovsky8, the economist and educator, in higher education, “‘made in America’ is still the finest label.” We all should have a hand in ensuring that continues to be true.

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Reimagining higher education in the United States

Higher education in the United States is at an inflection point. The core mission of the university—instruction, research, and service—has not changed. Nor has the need for advanced education to prepare individuals for a fulfilling life and to drive the knowledge economy. For individuals, the economic benefit of earning a college degree remains clear. College graduates are on average wealthier, healthier, and happier over a lifetime. 1 William R. Emmons, Ana H. Kent, and Lowell R. Ricketts, “Is college still worth it? The new calculus of falling returns,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 2019, Volume 101, Number 4, pp. 297–329, stlouisfed.org.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, however, the higher-education sector faced significant challenges. Consider student completion: only 60 percent of all those who started college actually earned a degree within six years in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available). The figures are even worse for Black (39.9 percent) and Hispanic (54.4 percent) students. Other troubling disparities persist. In student enrollment, for example, 69 percent of white high-school graduates enroll in college, compared with 59 percent of Black high-schoolers and 61 percent of Hispanics. Furthermore, the level of student debt is rising, while repayment rates plummet, creating a potentially unsustainable burden for many students.

The pandemic is intensifying these challenges and creating new ones. Students and their families are struggling with the impact of campus shutdowns and questioning whether it is worth it to pay for an on-campus experience when much of the instruction is being done remotely. Under these circumstances, the risk of outcome inequities—from completion to employment to lifetime earnings—could worsen. For example, evidence suggests that lower-income students are 55 percent more likely than their higher-income peers to delay graduation 2 Esteban Aucejo et al.,“The impact of COVID-19 on student experiences and expectations: Evidence from a survey,” Journal of Public Economics , August 2020, sciencedirect.com. due to the COVID-19 crisis. Underpinning all of these challenges is a business model at its breaking point, as institutions face falling revenues and rising health-and-safety costs.

In short, the coronavirus has confirmed the case for fast and fundamental change. It has also demonstrated that change is possible. When the pandemic hit, many US colleges and universities moved quickly to remote learning and other delivery models, launched affordability initiatives, and found creative ways to support their students. Now is the time to build on these lessons to reimagine the next five to ten years and beyond.

With that in mind, we pose five questions for US higher-education leaders to address as they look to the future. For each question, we describe the current conventional wisdom and then make the case for challenging it—to the benefit of students, faculty, staff, institutions, and society.

What makes our university distinctive?

The conventional wisdom: To successfully attract students and maintain competitive national rankings, colleges and universities must be well rounded.

National-ranking systems emphasize admissions selectivity, small class sizes, per-student spending, and standardized test scores. Focusing on this narrow set of variables can incentivize institutions to make strategic and operational choices that may boost their rankings without necessarily improving their core educational missions. It may also lead to greater homogenization in the higher-education landscape.

Instead, there may be more benefit to creating thoughtful differentiation, building on the institution’s existing strengths, resources, and local context. The question to ask is: “What should my institution be known for?” There are many ways to differentiate, including student mix and outcomes, faculty development, research capabilities, facilities, and community impact. Doing so may serve institutions and their students better than the conventional wisdom for three reasons.

First, identifying and prioritizing what makes an institution distinctive can be a competitive advantage that attracts committed students and faculty. Second, specializing—doing fewer things better—could improve outcomes. And third, creating a distinctive profile can be a source of resilience, enabling institutions to survive after a crisis.

Such differentiation will be critical given the trends that are challenging the higher-education sector. One trend is the coming “demographic cliff”—the number of high-school graduates in the United States will peak at around 3.6 million students in 2026 and then decline to 3.3 million students by 2030. Another is the drop, since 2016, in international-student enrollment, an important source of revenues for many colleges. The COVID-19 crisis could well accelerate this decline. A third trend is the competition for research funding. In terms of the percentage of GDP and of budget allocation, federal investment in R&D has fallen steadily since the 1960s (although it has risen in absolute terms, and in the past two decades, nonfederal investment has grown, too). Moreover, about 35 percent of federal funding went to just 22 schools in 2018. Given these constraints, leaders need to ask how research can serve their institutions and identify where they stand the best chance of attracting faculty and funding.

By defining their areas of distinction and then directing resources to support them, higher-education institutions can set themselves apart—making them stronger and enabling them to deliver high-quality programs and outcomes.

How can we build a diverse and inclusive institution?

The conventional wisdom: Current efforts are likely to fulfill diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals in a reasonable time frame.

Higher-education institutions have been at the forefront of recognizing, and taking steps to foster, D&I. Many feature chief diversity officers, D&I curriculum requirements, and training sessions on implicit bias, as part of the growing diversity infrastructure. Even so, there are sizeable gaps. College enrollment and completion rates for Black and Hispanic students are much lower than for their white or Asian counterparts. Another area to address is the student experience itself. According to a 2019 study, Black, Hispanic, and first-generation students report a lower sense of belonging at four-year schools (but not at two-year schools). 3 Shannon T. Brady et al., “College students’ sense of belonging: A national perspective,” Educational Researcher , 2020, Volume 49, Number 2, pp. 134–37, sagepub.com.

Faculty composition is even less representative. In 2017, only 6 percent of full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions were Black and 6 percent were Hispanic, compared with 14 percent and 18 percent of the US population, respectively. Women make up only 33 percent of full-time professors.

Doing more of the same, then, is not enough, and time is of the essence because of changing student demographics. Between the 2012–13 and the 2031–32 academic years, the proportion of high-school graduates who identify as Asian and Hispanic will grow to 31 percent, from 24 percent, of all students.

There is evidence from the business sector that prioritizing D&I as a core value is sound management. McKinsey research has consistently found that  businesses with top-quartile diversity on executive teams were likelier to have superior results; in the latest results from the 2019 study, companies with top-quartile ethnic and gender diversity were 36 percent and 25 percent, respectively, more likely to have above-average profitability. While the analogy between executive teams and higher education administrations is not precise, it is likely that campuses, like the C-suite, would benefit from a more diverse leadership composition.

Current higher-education D&I efforts are necessary yet insufficient, particularly given how the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting the lives, livelihoods, and education of Black and Hispanic Americans. Leaders must, therefore, act with a sense of urgency, seeking opportunities to strengthen D&I across their institutions—from redesigning student recruitment to updating faculty-performance measurement to account for the significant roles that under-represented faculty often play in mentoring to the social and academic experiences to postgraduate success. To do so may require new strategic initiatives and accountability measures, such as sharing the breakdown of tenure appointments by ethnicity and creating programs to encourage opportunities for intergroup dialogue and promote cross-race understanding. 4 This constitutes McKinsey’s view on best practices and optimized environments. Legal restrictions, however, could affect universities’ ability to adopt them; they should consult their legal counsel to understand any implications created by the recent “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” September 22, 2020, whitehouse.gov.

What services are necessary to create a high-quality student experience? And what aren’t?

The conventional wisdom: In addition to learning, higher-education institutions must be responsive to a wide range of student wants and needs.

The core mission of colleges and universities is instruction, research, and service. In recent decades, though, many have engaged in the so-called student-amenities arms race, with expansive offerings in areas such as entertainment, gourmet dining, and wellness. Higher-education institutions want to deliver an enjoyable experience, and of course some student services are essential, especially those related to physical and mental health. But it is notable that since at least 2010, the costs for student services have risen much faster than costs for instruction and research (Exhibit 1). While this spending does include some core services, this trend may no longer be sustainable for many institutions.

Spending on student services has been growing four times as fast as spending on instruction.

Chart summary.

Although more than half of total spending at four-year universities was invested in research and instruction, growth over ten years since 2007 showed 0.3% less was spent on research and only 0.5% more on instruction. Meanwhile, 8.5% of the total was invested in student services 4 , the largest area of growth in spending per student (2.1%) over ten years.

1 Adjusted for inflation.

2 Includes expenses for the day-to-day operational support of the institution. Includes expenses for general administrative services, central executive-level activities concerned with management and long-range planning, legal and fiscal operations, space management, employee personnel and records, logistical services such as purchasing and printing, and public relations and development.

3 Includes expenses for activities and services that support the institution's primary missions of instruction, research, and public service.

4 Includes expenses for admissions, registrar activities, and activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to students' emotional and physical well-being and to their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside the context of the formal instructional program. Examples include student activities, cultural events, student newspapers, intramural athletics, student organizations, supplemental instruction outside the normal administration, and student records.

Source: College Scorecard; Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (CPI); National Center for Education Statistics Trend Generator

McKinsey & Company

One of the most difficult things to do on a college campus is to stop doing something. That said, some institutions have shown how to make such tradeoffs. Spelman College, for example, announced in 2012 that it would drop competitive intercollegiate sports in favor of expanding campus-wide health and fitness programs. This exact tradeoff is being faced again, and some institutions are making the difficult choice to trim athletics; most notably, in July 2020, Stanford announced it will permanently cut 11 athletics programs.

While students surely appreciate things like luxury gyms and other services, there is a need to distinguish between what students like and what is necessary to serve the core education mission. Given the budget stresses of the COVID-19 crisis, higher-education institutions may want to consider providing fewer, better ancillary services, while keeping the broader well being of their students in mind.

What delivery channels and models should we use to fulfill our core educational mission?

The conventional wisdom: The best college experiences and educational outcomes are delivered in person, on a residential campus.

The quad, the ivy, the lecture hall, the dorm, the tailgate parties: these are some of the well-known totems of the quintessential college experience. These images are ingrained; they are also part of the reason why many (and maybe most) traditional four-year, higher-education institutions were slow to adopt new methods and technologies, such as remote instruction and competency-based learning that have the potential to advance student success while also lowering costs.

Global private investment in learning-technology companies has been growing fast, from $2 billion in 2012 to $19 billion in 2019. Areas such as online-learning management systems and innovations such as virtual-lab applications and immersive story learning are beginning to spread. And the COVID-19 crisis hustled even reluctant students and institutions into action. In 2018, only about 35 percent of undergraduates took a distance-education course. This year, that figure is close to 100 percent, as the pandemic forced the adoption of remote learning.

In 2018, only about 35 percent of undergraduates took a distance-education course. This year, that figure is close to 100 percent.

Institutional acceptance of the online delivery model also may be increasing. According to a poll of 2,000 US faculty members by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup in October 2019 5 Doug Lederman, “Professors’ slow, steady acceptance of online learning: A survey,” Inside Higher Education, October 30, 2019, insidehighered.com. —that is, well before the COVID-19 crisis—39 percent fully supported the increased use of education technologies, up from 29 percent in 2017. And a national survey of more than 4,000 faculty members earlier this year 6 “Time for class: COVID-19 edition,” Tyton Partners, July 2020, everylearnereverywhere.org. found that 45 percent had a better opinion of remote learning since the pandemic began; fewer than one in five (17 percent) had a more negative perception.

Remote and online learning are here to stay. The need is to determine what combination of remote and in-person learning delivers the highest educational quality and equity. As institutions refine this hybrid model, they have a once-in-a-generation chance to reconfigure their use of physical and virtual space. They may be able to reduce the number of large lecture halls, for example, and convert them into flexible working pods or performance spaces. Or they could reimagine the academic calendar, offering instruction into the summer months.

What is our business model?

The conventional wisdom: The current higher-education business model, which relies heavily on ongoing tuition increases, can be sustained.

For decades, the financial model of US colleges and universities rested on two revenue streams. Student tuition and fees were the most important; the rest came from a mix of different sources, such as athletics, research grants, endowments, and government appropriations, that varied greatly. Both revenue streams are now under stress. These unprecedented times require a reimagined business model that protects the core educational mission and financial viability of the institution, while limiting economic burdens on students.

As mentioned, athletics, research grants, and other revenue sources are sputtering in the pandemic. But the bigger stress is on tuition and fees, which comprise at least half of revenues for about 55 percent of four-year private nonprofit institutions in the United States; meanwhile they account for more than a third of revenues for about 30 percent of public institutions. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, administrators realized that they had limited scope to increase tuition; now it has become even more difficult to do so.

Two issues threaten the traditional tuition-reliant financial model. First, there is affordability. To offer financial aid, institutions manage a complicated pricing system in which higher-income and international students effectively subsidize needier ones. This lack of price transparency feeds into the perception of the increasing costs—and unaffordability—of college. In fact, from 2007–17, net costs rose only 4 percent , reversing the trend of previous decades. Yet the perception of unaffordability means that some young people might be discouraged from trying to attend: they see the high sticker prices and assume that they are priced out.

Second, there are also questions around the value of higher education when debt levels and repayment rates are considered. Median student debt levels have climbed by 45 percent since 2006, while repayment rates have dropped by 24 percent since 2009 (Exhibit 2). The situation appears to be worsening; in 2016, only 6 percent of students  were at colleges where students left with moderate debt and managed high repayment rates, compared with 54 percent in 2009. The situation is even worse for students who incur debt but don’t graduate and, therefore, don’t benefit from the income-raising advantage of a degree.

The COVID-19 crisis could accelerate these trends. In our April 2020 student survey , 45 percent of prospective students cited cost as extremely important in selecting a college, 44 percent of students who switched schools between January and April did so to save money, and 30 percent reported that the COVID-19 crisis was likely to have a strong or extremely strong impact on their ability to afford college.

Another important factor is to ensure students realize an economic return on their investment in higher education; without that assurance, young people will not be willing to enroll in the first place, or finish. Colleges are under pressure to ensure that students don’t just graduate with a degree, but with a pathway to sustainable employment that secures a reasonable standard of living.

Given these financial constraints, it is not surprising to see consolidation. Since 2000, there have been about 100 higher-education mergers in the United States, 7 John Hanc, “For some colleges, the best move is to merge,” October 10, 2019, New York Times , nytimes.com. and more are likely. The Pennsylvania State University system, 8 Jan Murphy, “Pa. state system of higher education exploring costs of combining some universities,” July 16, 2020, Patriot-News , pennlive.com. for example, is considering restructuring the different institutions in the system. Properties, buildings, and talent from less-affluent campuses may well become available. An interesting example comes from Connecticut, where three schools are buying the assets of the University of Bridgeport 9 Goldie Blumenstyk, “The edge: As colleges’ finances get shakier, what lessons does this ‘sorta’ merger offer?”, July 8, 2020, Chronicle of Higher Education , chronicle.com. ; the latter’s academic programs will continue for the time being, while other operations, such as the library and security, are shared.

The opportunity—indeed, the necessity—is to reimagine higher education financials so that students do not find themselves mired in debt. There is little room to increase tuition, and there are also challenges to other revenue sources, such as athletics and research funding; education leaders must therefore ask how they can reevaluate their spending and/or reallocate existing resources.

Colleges and universities must reimagine their business models and consider new ways to operate—either on a standalone basis or through partnerships that accomplish the same goals, at lower cost.

How do we challenge the conventional wisdom?

Higher-education leaders face a complex situation, negotiating how to manage the COVID-19 crisis in a context of economic, demographic, and technological challenges. At the same time, universities have a reputation for making decisions slowly. “It’s easier to change the course of history,” the saying goes, “than it is to change the history course.” The deliberate, and deliberative, nature of university governance has many benefits, but it can also be a hindrance to decisive action. That said, many university leaders have reacted creatively and swiftly to meet the challenge of protecting their communities’ health while delivering on their educational mission.

Three mechanisms can help universities to sustain this momentum: planning, stakeholder engagement, and board governance:

  • Plan ahead. Responding to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic requires leaders to take decisive short-term actions. But they also need to dedicate time to develop longer-term strategic thinking. One way to do so is to create plan-ahead teams  that include people identified as future leaders. The team should be tasked with developing scenarios, recommending actions, and identifying trigger points for escalation to the university’s board and administrative leadership.
  • Stakeholder engagement. Universities should engage early and often with important stakeholder groups—including faculty, staff, students, and parents—when making critical strategic decisions. Leaders must be transparent about decision-making processes, establish clear timelines, and meet them. By embedding engagement into decision making, rather than as an afterthought, the shared governance culture of higher education can be respected, while still allowing universities to act quickly.
  • Board governance. In moments of crisis, boards can play a critical role. But that role must not slip into micro-management. Board members should evaluate their operating model—the board’s size, structure, and decision rights—to ensure they provide the necessary governance without interfering with administrators.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that universities will need to adapt. “The inertia of a massive university is formidable,” noted Harvard President Charles W. Eliot in his inaugural address. “A good past is positively dangerous, if it makes us content with the present, and so unprepared for the future.”

President Eliot made those remarks in 1869. The time to prepare for a new future is now.

André Dua is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Miami office; Jonathan Law  is a senior partner in the New York office; Ted Rounsaville is a senior expert in the Washington, DC, office; and Nadia Viswanath is a consultant in the San Francisco office.

The authors wish to thank Arthur Bianchi and Kathleen Zhu for their contributions to this article, as well as the hundreds of university leaders who shared their experiences and perspectives with us.

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Does College Matter?

Find the right college for you..

College does matter and is absolutely worth it - if you choose a program that matches your career goals, graduate on time, and avoid too much debt.

Almost every job that leads to a promising career, with good pay and benefits, requires education or training beyond high school. For most high-paying professional jobs, that means a four-year college degree.

At the same time, career training or short-term educational programs for a growing number of technical fields can pay off, too.

For many, the question is: college or trade school?

Is college worth the cost?

If you stick with your studies and graduate in a reasonable time, college is worth the cost. The vast majority of college graduates are better off financially than their peers who didn’t complete college. College degrees are still in high demand from employers, and completing college is a strong sign that you’re ready for high-skilled work.

The key is finding a school where you’re likely to graduate and finish with low or modest debt. The national average is about $29,400 , which most graduates are able to pay off because their degree helped them earn a well-paying job. You can find detailed information about college graduation rates, the real cost of college over time, and how potential earnings vary by career field at bigfuture.org. And you can give yourself the opportunity to save time and money toward a degree while you’re in high school by scoring a 3 or higher on an AP Exam to earn college credit .

Students can get into trouble when they don’t graduate, or when they take on significant debt before they’re able to finish. Many college students don’t graduate on time, which makes a degree more expensive. Or they don’t finish at all, which means they don’t get the benefit of higher earnings.

Finishing college is the single most important thing you can do to make it affordable. Students who leave college without graduating are the most likely to have trouble with debt and future employment. As many as 4 in 10 students who start a 4-year degree program don’t finish in 6 years. Colleges with more resources, like generous financial aid funding, good counselors, and mentoring programs, typically have a better track record of graduating their students on time and with low debt.

What about career or technical training?

There are valuable training and credential options available, but there are also a lot of expensive programs that don’t add much to your résumé. It’s important to know what kind of training is most valuable for your planned career field.

Specific training programs in fields like construction, manufacturing, and healthcare can lead to immediate job opportunities and above-average pay. Job training credentials offered by community colleges, often in partnership with local employers, are some of the highest-rated programs.

Some larger tech companies like IBM, Google, and Apple will accept proof of specific coding or data analytics skills for entry-level jobs. However, they still normally require college degrees for higher-level positions.

Building a long-term career—taking on more responsibility, managing other people, earning more money—is often easier for those with both a college degree and industry-specific credentials. Employers usually see a college degree as meaning you have a set of flexible skills, like critical thinking and communication. Industry-specific credentials are a sign that you have hard skills like coding or database management.

Together, they make a stronger case that you’re ready for skilled work than either alone. Unless you have a very clear sense of your dream job and its required training programs, it’s generally better to pursue both college and industry credentials.

Should I go to college?

Thinking clearly about your goals and college options can help you make the right choice. Feeling confident about your next step after high school, whether that’s college or a high-value career path, will set you up for success.

Many variables affect your life and career, and it’s impossible to plan and predict all of them. It’s most important to find a field that genuinely interests you, then get all the valuable education and training you can in that field. Here are some tips on how to be successful after high school:

  • Take classes in college or through a training program.
  • Pursue internships with companies or organizations that can give you experience in your chosen field.
  • Cultivate mentors who have built careers that interest you and ask how they did it.

You’re much more likely to complete a worthwhile degree or training program if you’re working toward a life and a job you’ll love. Focus on the future you want and be open to different options for getting there.

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Why Higher Education Matters

Our success depends on increasing access, fostering openness and serving society..

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Why Higher Education Matters

Photo: Toni Bird

By Marc Tessier-Lavigne

A merican colleges and universities serve society and are reliable engines of personal and national prosperity. They include 43 of the top 100 worldwide. Yet public trust in the value of higher education has been shaken. Families are frustrated about the costs of college. Some express concern about growing endowments. Others perceive our institutions as elitist or ideologically one-sided. Now is the time to tackle these concerns.

The stakes are high. Recently passed federal tax-reform legislation may reduce charitable contributions and stress some state education budgets. A new excise tax on endowments affects about 35 colleges and universities, including ours. Moody’s revised the 2018 outlook for higher education from “stable” to “negative.” Standard & Poor’s called it “bleak.”

What can we do to strengthen our contribution and better convey our value to society? Let’s take stock of both our strengths and what needs improvement.

Our value to society lies first in our ability to educate the next generation of citizens, critical thinkers and innovators. Affordability and access are key. From 2006 to 2016, Stanford provided $1.5 billion in scholarships and grants to our undergraduates; federal and state governments provided them $111 million. Tuition is now free for most families earning less than $125,000; one in seven Stanford undergraduates is now a first-generation college student; and 82 percent of undergraduates leave with zero debt. Despite gains, we remain focused on improving access for students from low- and middle-income families.

Fostering curiosity and free expression is also key. To be prepared for life, our students must learn how to think independently and to engage productively with diverse points of view. To help with this, the provost and I recently supported leaders at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies to team with student leaders across the political spectrum in creating a new series of moderated discussions, Cardinal Conversations, that pairs major public intellectuals who have contrasting views. In January, Reid Hoffman, ’89, and Peter Thiel, ’89, JD ’92, discussed technology and politics. Other speaker pairs will tackle a range of timely issues. We will continue identifying ways to help our students engage with a broad range of perspectives both inside and outside the classroom.

As a research university, our value also lies in advancing knowledge and in applying it to solve major societal problems. From 2012 to 2015, U.S. academic institutions were featured in 40 percent of worldwide patent citations. Stanford innovations range from a search engine to medical cures to digital music; Stanford entrepreneurs have created more than 5 million jobs since the 1930s. But the application of knowledge is not always efficient. In biomedicine, the journey from laboratory discovery to successful therapy is called the Valley of Death. We need to create new infrastructure and systems to speed up application—not just in biomedicine, but also in other disciplines.

Finally, our financial aid and academic programs are made possible by our endowment. We must be financially sound in 50 years, 100 years and beyond. Fifty years ago, Stanford cardiologists performed the first adult heart transplant in U.S. history. Recently, Stanford biologists discovered why some babies are born with heart disease. Whose heart might need healing 50 years from now? The endowment ensures our long-term capacity to support high-risk research that leads to transformative breakthroughs.

Our Long-Range Planning process has given us fresh ideas for how to advance affordability, access, free expression, and the discovery and application of knowledge. While we continually strive to improve, we must also find common ground and spread the word about the value of Stanford and all research universities.

Marc Tessier-Lavigne is the president of Stanford University.

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The Importance of Higher Education

Nayreth garcia.

  • Career Planning , Non-Traditional Students

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Content Writer At Gradehacker

  • Updated on June, 2023

Higher education’s importance is huge since education is a lifelong pursuit that can significantly impact your present and future.

After all, investing in your level of education can change your life and provide better opportunities .

Here at Gradehacker, as the non-traditional student #1 resource, we’re happy to say that we have been an extra hand for many in their professional degree path and helped them to be aware of the importance of higher education.

Whether you seek economic stability through a well-paying job, personal growth, or better education status, higher education offers multiple positive effects that we look forward to sharing with you in this blog!

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Why Is Higher Education Important?

When mentioning higher education’s importance,  let’s first set clear that it is more than just an academic degree. 

You gain skills in:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Time management

The college experience teaches you how to adapt quickly to an ever-changing world by learning how to manage time and communicate effectively. 

Those with years spent in formal education become exposed to new ideas, learning the critical thinking skills and abilities they need to succeed and get job satisfaction.

College is the stepping stone to achieving a more diverse career. You learn how to create professional work and become more productive since, as a college student, you need to master time management within your schedule to meet deadlines.

You learn how to work in a team and communicate with others effectively. You also learn college-level writing skills to write better essays, articles, and other pieces while gaining new techniques to improve your basic skills, such as using APA or MLA format.

All educational institutions are also great places to improve your social skills and make connections with people around you.

By exchanging your beliefs with others, you can develop new ideas that might create a new project involving people with the same set of values.

The benefit of pursuing an academic degree is to become a great professional since your future depends on what you do with your life.

why higher education is important

What's The Real Value of a Degree?

Before we start, let’s ensure you understand the value of a degree. This is something most college students take for granted but should if they want to achieve any educational attainment.

A college degree (like a four-year degree) is not a right. 

It is something that is given to you through higher education. You can’t earn a college degree by showing up to classes and not turning in the work, you have to take classes, do assignments, and complete them to see consistent effects. 

If you don’t put your part, then you won’t graduate. There are no shortcuts to getting a college degree.

College can be interpreted as a business, which means you have to put in the work one way or another.

If you work hard in college for your professional degree, you can do better on the job market after graduation, make more money, and make positive for a better quality of life than someone with a high school diploma. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics , these are the average salaries of professionals with different degrees:

  • Less than high school: $29,800
  • High-school diploma: $36,600
  • Associate degree: $44,100
  • Bachelor’s degree: $59,600
  • Master’s degree: $69,700

That is the true value of a college education degree.

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What Are The Benefits of Higher Education?

Education is often a major stepping stone to achieving any dream. Yes, it can help you find a career and create positive income effects by boosting it, but higher education can also teach you valuable life lessons and better insight into life.

Here are some of the most important advantages of going after a four-year degree:

  • Learn more about yourself and your learning style
  • Test your knowledge and find out what your strengths are
  • Gain more knowledge on the specific fields that interest you

With a college education, you can become a more disciplined person as it impacts your behavior.

It’s beneficial for any future college graduate to earn more self-esteem and self-confidence or even improve their communication skills . During college, you’ll have to work in groups, participate in group discussions, and present projects in front of other students.

During those moments, confidence is key!

If you come from a low-income family and are the first to get a degree, you will not only feel successful and proud of your hard work, but you will also see it as a possibility to improve your loved ones’ life .

Pursuing postsecondary education can also be reflected in society.

If there’s an increase in individuals with a high level of education, it can often relate to the economic growth of a country. This will create the presence of people with defined specialized skills that can be helpful to different industries.

According to the OECD Organization , adults with a tertiary degree earn, on average, 54% more than adults with upper secondary education , creating positive economic effects and a more equitable society.  

They also mention that people with higher levels of education are more likely to find employment, remain employed, learn new skills on the job, and earn more over their working life relative to those with lower levels of education.

Benefits of a College Degree

If you come from a low-income family and you are the first one in the family to get a degree, you will not only feel successful and proud of your hard work, but you will also see it as a possibility to make your loved ones’ life better.

The benefits of pursuing higher education can also be reflected in society. If there’s an increase of individuals with a high level of education, it can often relate to the economic growth of a country. This will create the presence of people with defined specialized skills that can be helpful to different industries.

importance of higher education

What Can You Do with a College Degree?

As we showed you above, there is a clear difference between a person’s income without higher education and college graduates. And, while shorter, the same happens within different college majors.

For example, according to Glassdoor, a graduate in History major can earn between $35,000 and $81,000 per year, depending on the position. That’s quite a gap!

Whether you want to prioritize pursuing your dream career or earning more money is entirely up to you. So, don’t focus on the job you want but instead choose a college major that will make you a better fit for that job you are looking for.

Still, you can pursue further knowledge in a particular area and increase your chances of earning more money than the average with a degree.

For example, if you finished your Bachelor of Science in Nursing but want to take a step into an administrative and managing position, you can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing and open a door with many job opportunities .

According to a report made by The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), those with higher education degrees are:

  • Half as likely to be unemployed
  • Make 84% higher on average
  • Make $1.2 million more over their lifetime

This is compared to those who only have a high school degree, and we can see that there are clearly noticeable differences favoring those with a degree.

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How to Prepare for Your Future

If you have set your mind on becoming successful and achieving your dreams, then there are two things you need to do right now:

First, you need to spend as much time planning what career path you want to follow.

Knowing what field and major you’ll pursue can help you create a solid and well-organized plan for your upcoming college years. If you are not sure how to choose your major , here are a few tips to help you!

After you are clear on your choice, you can start selecting the college you want to attend and prepare the requirements . Here you can read our list of common requirements that colleges look for in students!

You can also find many different courses on the internet , which will help you develop your career and keep up with what’s happening.

But the most important thing is to keep in mind that college, or higher education, is important. It’s one of the most prominent pillars of modern society, as it makes you independent.

After all, your path to getting a proper job can become more challenging without it.

Don't Stop Pursuing Your Dreams of a Better Education

Higher education provides an avenue for future college graduates . These students can apply their knowledge in a real-world setting with professors and advisors.

The benefits of higher education are undeniable. The world of tomorrow will be vastly different from the one we know today, and it is becoming more and more imperative for everyone to get an education.

We hope this article will teach you why college is so important and how crucial it is to get a degree in something you truly like.

If you want to earn your degree faster or feel that your college experience is keeping you away from the things that are really important in your life, here at Gradehacker we can help you! From your entire college classes to your degree program , book a call with our team and see how we can walk this path with you!

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Why is Education Important and What Impact Has It Had on Your Life?

A smiling woman reading about why education is important.

At Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), we believe in the power of education to transform lives – and we witness the transformative journeys our students embark on while they earn their degrees and beyond. The stories are personal but each learner begins with a simple premise: Education is important.

We asked SNHU leaders and staff to share their thoughts on education and how it has impacted their lives.

Dr. Paul LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University

Dr. Paul LeBlanc

We know that people with college degrees vote more, divorce less, smoke less and the list goes on . Take the two together - personal development  and social mobility - and education is an incredible force for good. In many ways, it is critical to the American narrative of self-improvement, merit and mobility.

It (education) has changed everything. It put me on a trajectory to an incredibly rewarding career. It has allowed a life for my daughters that their grandparents could scarcely imagine. It has allowed me to connect with the distant past through literature and history and art and to imagine a better future through philosophy, political science, and sociology.

Really, it feels like the question might be "Is there any aspect of your life education hasn't touched?" and then the answer could be simple. It would be "no."

Amelia Manning, Chief Operating Officer

Amelia Manning

Four years later, after minoring in gender studies and reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” I had what some would call a light-bulb moment. The actual message I had been given, but wasn’t at the time ready to hear, was about power and privilege. It was not a personal attack, as I’d initially interpreted it to be, but instead about expanding my awareness and understanding of how power works and the conscious and unconscious ways it influences each of us. It wasn’t until I read “The Bluest Eye,” and saw the world through the eyes of a child who believed she’d be happy if only she had blue eyes, that I fully understood.

Education, and learning, at its best pushes the boundaries of what we believe to be true. It opens doors and windows on our world that sheds light on our own beliefs and, in turn, on our understanding of the world and how it works and how we can make it a better place. Education is, and should be, transformative, not only for an individual, but for society.

As I stated earlier, I believe that education is transformative. It can change the trajectory of your life just as it can help to shine the light for you on opportunities that you would never have considered or believed were possible. I have seen impact not only for me, but for the thousands of students I’ve had the honor of working with here at SNHU.

Dr. Gregory Fowler, former President, Global Campus

Dr. Gregory Fowler

Humans are constantly forced to make choices (some don’t recognize that even choosing not to choose is a choice), all of which have repercussions. Education positions us to make the most informed choices and therefore live with the consequences, even when things don’t turn out as we expect, because even then, the learned person understands that they are being educated.

Education has led me on a journey around the world—to Europe, Australia, Central America, as well as almost every state in the U.S. I continue to be awed by the various permutations of our existence. They are so different and yet at their core, they all operate with the same basic principles that reinforce that no matter how different we are, we all continue to be so very human, driven not only by basic human needs but by our passions, our fears and our hopes.

Autumn Earnshaw Fillion, Military Academic Advising Team Lead

Autumn Earnshaw Fillion

Education gives us a wider range of experience, makes us think about things and see things in a way we might not have before. Education can build confidence and trust within us. Beyond the "book" knowledge an education provides, it displays commitment and determination.

I know it is cliché to say, but education has opened doors for me professionally and personally. I love my job and the career that my master's degree  led me to. I have met awesome people along the way that have shaped my life. Education has become my profession so all I have and am has been influenced by my education.

Amy Stevens, Vice President, Academic Resources & Technology, Executive Director of CBE Programs

Amy Stevens

I can’t think of anything in my life that hasn’t been touched by education. I am on my fourth career, three of which didn’t exist when I graduated college. I can recreate myself because I have a strong foundation in critical thinking skills, I can write and do some basic math, I can learn what I don’t know and gain wisdom from my mistakes.

Education continues to have an impact on my life, and hopefully I can continue to add value to the education SNHU students earn through my work in and out of the classroom.

Dr. Jeffrey Czarnec, Associate Dean, Criminal Justice and Social Sciences

Dr. Jeff Czarnec

Education has allowed for ME to have a positive impact on scores of others. An education is to be shared, it must contribute to the well-being of others and must provoke change where none had previously occurred.

Cheryl Frederick, Senior Associate Dean, STEM

Cheryl Frederick

I grew up in a small town and was raised by a single mother. I watched my mother's job opportunities improve after she finished her college degree. This instilled how important education is and I made a decision at a young age that I would go to college. I always loved STEM-related classes and the latest innovations in technology. Education has allowed me to participate in the forefront of the application of innovative information technology and to connect with very interesting individuals. I have had the privilege of working for some amazing companies, on interesting projects, and been able to see different areas of the country due to work travel.

Kristi Durette, Associate Vice President | Institutional Advancement

Kristi Durette

I believe at my core I have a curiosity that encourages me to always be a learner; that every interaction is an opportunity to educate and be educated. And in those exchanges, the opportunity to build a more informed and engaged community. Teachers who created opportunities for students like me to engage in learning, decision-making about community values and shared responsibility for building the community come in the form of leaders, peers, students, neighbors and strangers we encounter as life unfolds. I feel like I learn something about myself and my world every day and that is the greatest gift.

Matthew Belanger, Associate Vice President of Academic Strategy and Operations

Matthew Belanger

My education has had a profound impact on my life. It has provided me with the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others in various, countless ways. Without my education I would not be where I am today, in a position to help other students (many of whom are the first in their family like I was) be successful in their own pursuit of a degree.

The process of earning my education also had a significant impact. I was able to work with students of all ages to understand how students learn best and what that learning (and education) really means to them. My own education has taught me about diversity, strength, hard work, motivation and fulfillment.

Now as a father, what I have learned about education will be passed down to my children and my children’s children. They will grow up knowing how important their education is and how much I’ll be there to support them.

Tim Lehmann, Vice President of Student Financial Services

Tim Lehmann

It has had an incredible impact on my life. It continues to impact my attitudes and altitude. I continue to believe that there is an "education effect" that correlates to better social and economic outcomes based on how much education a person has. I know in my life this is true.

Dr. Gwen Britton, Associate Vice President, STEM Professions

Dr. Gwen Britton

Knowledge also contributes to understanding of how different cultures and geographies live out their lives – differences in perspective, beliefs, experiences and how they influence the world as a whole; again, more knowledge, more connections between what we know and how we know it.

I feel like I have lived a pretty charmed life. I’ve lived in many different places across the United States, from east to west and in the middle too. I also lived in Europe and Guam. I was exposed to different cultures and educational perspectives from the first day of my education. Learning from different people in different places made me want to try to teach others as well. The biggest impact it has had on my life is my desire to pay it forward and help others discover their own potential through learning.

Tiffany Fifer, Director of Online Engagement

Tiffany Fifer

My father has a high school GED and this limited his career choices in life. While he is one of the hardest workers I know, furthering his education would have opened so many more doors for him. It was very important to him that his children have the chance to go to college.

Through Alternative Break trips , I have seen college students be transformed by relief work in an impacted community. These students put their own luxuries aside, learned about new cultures and rolled up their sleeves to make the world a little better. Many have gone on to work in service organizations and share their talents with the world. Education makes this type of growth possible.

Education has taken me around the world. I have learned new languages, lived with students from different countries, helped students study abroad and traveled with students through Italy and the Dominican Republic.

Education has also taught me how to solve problems. The position I now hold in online student engagement didn’t exist when I was in college and there aren’t many colleagues in the field doing this work yet. My education has given me the confidence to take risks, analyze opportunities and determine how we can lead in this area.

Finally, education has given me the opportunity to pay it forward. So many wonderful mentors had such an impact on me growing up and I feel it is my duty (and complete pleasure) to support our students through their own journey of co-curricular involvement and education.

Pamme Boutselis ‘15, ‘17G is a staff writer and senior content director in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @pammeb or connect on LinkedIn .

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Home  /  News  /  Why Is Education Important? The Power Of An Educated Society

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Why Is Education Important? The Power Of An Educated Society

Looking for an answer to the question of why is education important? We address this query with a focus on how education can transform society through the way we interact with our environment. 

Whether you are a student, a parent, or someone who values educational attainment, you may be wondering how education can provide quality life to a society beyond the obvious answer of acquiring knowledge and economic growth. Continue reading as we discuss the importance of education not just for individuals but for society as a whole. 

a student graduating from university while showing the time and impact their education provides

Harness the power of education to build a more sustainable modern society with a degree from  Unity Environmental University .

How Education Is Power: The Importance Of Education In Society

Why is education so important? Nelson Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” An educated society is better equipped to tackle the challenges that face modern America, including:

  • Climate change
  • Social justice
  • Economic inequality

Education is not just about learning to read and do math operations. Of course, gaining knowledge and practical skills is part of it, but education is also about values and critical thinking. It’s about finding our place in society in a meaningful way. 

Environmental Stewardship

A  study from 2022 found that people who belong to an environmental stewardship organization, such as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, are likely to have a higher education level than those who do not. This suggests that quality education can foster a sense of responsibility towards the environment.

With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly alarming, this particular importance of education is vital to the health, safety, and longevity of our society. Higher learning institutions can further encourage environmental stewardship by adopting a  framework of sustainability science .

jars filled with money showing the economic growth after going to a university

The Economic Benefits Of Education

Higher education can lead to better job opportunities and higher income. On average, a  person with a bachelor’s degree will make $765,000 more  in their lifetime than someone with no degree. Even with the rising costs of tuition, investment in higher education pays off in the long run. In 2020, the return on investment (ROI) for a college degree was estimated to be  13.5% to 35.9% . 

Green jobs  like environmental science technicians and solar panel installers  have high demand projections for the next decade. Therefore, degrees that will prepare you for one of these careers will likely yield a high ROI. And, many of these jobs only require an  associate’s degree or certificate , which means lower overall education costs. 

Unity  helps students maximize their ROI with real-world experience in the field as an integral part of every degree program. 

10 Reasons Why School Is Important

Education is not just an individual pursuit but also a societal one.  In compiling these reasons, we focused on the question, “How does education benefit society?” Overall, higher education has the power to transform:

  • Individuals’ sense of self
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Social communities
  • Professional communities

Cognitive Development

Neuroscience research  has proven that the brain is a muscle that can retain its neuroplasticity throughout life. However, like other muscles, it must receive continual exercise to remain strong. Higher education allows people of any age to improve their higher-level cognitive abilities like problem-solving and decision-making. This can make many parts of life feel more manageable and help society run smoothly. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is key to workplace success.  Studies  show that people with emotional intelligence exhibit more:

  • Self-awareness
  • Willingness to try new things
  • Innovative thinking
  • Active listening
  • Collaboration skills
  • Problem-solving abilities

By attending higher education institutions that value these soft skills, students can improve their emotional intelligence as part of their career development in college.

Technological Literacy

Many careers in today’s job market use advanced technology. To prepare for these jobs, young people likely won’t have access to these technologies to practice on their own. That’s part of why so many STEM career paths require degrees. It’s essential to gain technical knowledge and skills through a certified program to safely use certain technologies. And, educated scientists are  more likely to make new technological discoveries .

Cultural Awareness

Education exposes individuals to different cultures and perspectives. Being around people who are different has the powerful ability to foster acceptance. Acceptance benefits society as a whole. It increases innovation and empathy. 

College also gives students an opportunity to practice feeling comfortable in situations where there are people of different races, genders, sexualities, and abilities. Students can gain an understanding of how to act respectfully among different types of people, which is an important skill for the workplace. This will only become more vital as our world continues to become more globalized.

Ethical and Moral Development

Another reason why school is important is that it promotes ethical and moral development. Many schools require students to take an ethics course in their general education curriculum. However, schools can also encourage character development throughout their programs by using effective pedagogical strategies including:

  • Class debates and discussions
  • Historical case studies
  • Group projects

Unity’s distance learning programs  include an ethical decision-making class in our core curriculum. 

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Communication Skills

Effective written and verbal communication skills are key for personal and professional success. Higher education programs usually include at least one communication course in their general education requirements. Often the focus in these classes is on writing skills, but students can also use college as an opportunity to hone their presentation and public speaking skills. Courses such as  Multimedia Communication for Environmental Professionals  provide many opportunities for this. 

Civic Engagement

According to a  Gallup survey , people with higher education degrees are:

  • More likely to participate in civic activities such as voting and volunteering
  • Less likely to commit crimes
  • More likely to get involved in their local communities

All these individual acts add up to make a big difference in society. An educated electorate is less likely to be swayed by unethical politicians and, instead, make choices that benefit themselves and their community. Because they are more involved, they are also more likely to hold elected officials accountable.

Financial Stability

The right degree can significantly expand your career opportunities and improve your long-term earning potential. Not all degrees provide the same level of financial stability, so it’s important to research expected salary offers after graduation and job demand outlook predictions for your desired field. Consider the return on investment for a degree from an affordable private school such as  Unity Environmental University .

Environmental Awareness

We have already discussed why education is important for environmental stewardship. Education can also lead to better environmental practices in the business world. By building empathy through character education and ethics courses, institutions can train future business leaders to emphasize human rights and sustainability over profits. All types and sizes of businesses can incorporate sustainable practices, but awareness of the issues and solutions is the first step.

Lifelong Learning

The reasons why education is important discussed so far focus on institutional education. However, education can happen anywhere. Attending a university that values all kinds of learning will set students up with the foundation to become lifelong learners.  Research  demonstrates that lifelong learners tend to be healthier and more fulfilled throughout their lives. When societies emphasize the importance of education, they can boost their overall prosperity.

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The Role Of Unity Environmental University In Society

Environmentally conscious education is extremely valuable and should be accessible to all.   Unity Environmental University  offers tuition prices that are comparable to public universities, and financial aid is available to those who qualify. Courses last five weeks so that students can focus on only one class at a time. This ensures all learners are set up for academic success. 

Unity believes in supporting students holistically to maximize the power of education. This includes mental health services,  experiential learning opportunities , and  job placement assistance . Students in our  hybrid programs  can take classes at several field stations throughout Maine and enjoy the beautiful nature surrounding the campus for outdoor recreation.

Sustainable Initiatives

Some highlights from Unity Environmental University’s many sustainable initiatives:

  • All programs include at least one sustainability learning outcome
  • All research courses are focused on sustainability research
  • Reduced building energy use by 25% across campus
  • 100% of food waste is recycled into energy 
  • Campus features a  net-zero LEED Platinum-certified classroom/office building

While many schools value sustainability, Unity stands out because  everything  we do is about sustainability. We also recognize our responsibility to model how a sustainable business can operate in a manner that’s fiscally viable and socially responsible.

Make An Impact At Unity Environmental University

While the phrase ‘education is power’ may sound cliche, it is also resoundingly true. Higher education has the power to transform individuals and societies. Unity Environmental University understands its power to make a positive impact on the world. That’s why we were the first university to divest from fossil fuels. 

This year, we celebrated our  largest incoming class ever , showing that students want an education system that aligns with their values. In addition to our commitment to sustainability, we offer flexibility to students with start dates all year round for our  online degree programs .

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Why is Higher Education Important to You Personally and Professionally?

  • November 10, 2023
  • Office of Outreach and Relationships

why is higher education important to you personally and professionally

Higher education plays a crucial role in personal and professional development. It provides individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge, and opportunities to enhance their career prospects, pursue their passions, and achieve personal growth. In this article, we will explore the numerous reasons why higher education is important to you both personally and professionally.

Key Takeaways:

  • Higher education enhances career prospects and opens doors to higher-paying jobs.
  • It equips individuals with the skills needed to adapt to a changing job market.
  • Higher education fosters well-rounded education, including soft skills and communication abilities.
  • It helps develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Higher education offers international and experiential learning opportunities.

The Wage Gap and Lifetime Earnings

When considering the importance of higher education , one of the most significant factors to consider is the wage gap between individuals with a degree and those without one. Studies have consistently shown that individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn significantly more over their lifetime compared to those with only a high school diploma. In fact, research indicates that individuals with a degree earn 84% more in their lifetime than their counterparts without one. This wage gap underscores the financial benefits of pursuing higher education.

Higher education not only leads to higher-paying jobs but also provides opportunities for career advancement and increased earning potential. With a degree, individuals are eligible for a wider range of employment options, many of which offer more competitive salaries and benefits. By investing in higher education, individuals can set themselves on a path towards financial stability and long-term financial success.

Additionally, higher education equips individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate a constantly evolving job market. With the rise of automation and AI technologies, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive and specialized. A higher education provides individuals with a competitive edge by ensuring they have the necessary qualifications and expertise to adapt to these technological advancements. This, in turn, leads to increased employability and the potential for higher-paying jobs.

Adapting to an Evolving Job Market

The job market is constantly evolving, driven by advancements in technology, particularly automation and AI technologies. As these innovations continue to shape various industries, it becomes crucial for individuals to adapt and stay relevant in the changing landscape. Higher education plays a vital role in equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate and thrive in an evolving job market.

By pursuing higher education, students gain a deep understanding of emerging trends and technologies. They are exposed to coursework that covers topics such as data analytics, machine learning, and digital transformation, preparing them for jobs that require expertise in these areas. Additionally, higher education institutions often collaborate with industry partners to provide students with real-world experiences and internships, giving them a firsthand understanding of how automation and AI technologies are impacting different sectors.

Furthermore, higher education fosters a mindset of adaptability and continuous learning. Students are encouraged to think critically, problem-solve, and embrace change. They learn how to quickly acquire new skills and knowledge, enabling them to stay ahead of technological advancements. This ability to adapt is essential in a job market where roles and responsibilities are constantly evolving.

Developing Future-Proof Skills

To thrive in a technology-driven job market, individuals need to develop skills that complement and enhance automation and AI technologies. Higher education provides opportunities to develop these future-proof skills by offering specialized programs and courses. Students can pursue degrees in fields such as computer science, cybersecurity, data science, and robotics – areas that are highly sought after in the job market. By acquiring these skills, individuals position themselves for career success and job security.

  • Develop a strong foundation in computer programming and coding languages
  • Acquire a deep understanding of data analysis and interpretation
  • Master critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills
  • Cultivate creativity and innovation to navigate complex challenges
  • Enhance communication and collaboration skills to work effectively with automated systems and AI technologies

In summary, higher education equips individuals with the knowledge, skills, and mindset required to adapt and excel in an evolving job market. Through specialized coursework, industry collaborations, and a focus on future-proof skills, higher education prepares students for the challenges and opportunities presented by automation and AI technologies.

Well-Rounded Education for Professional Success

Employers today are not only looking for candidates with specialized knowledge in their field but also those who possess a well-rounded education. This kind of education goes beyond technical skills and includes the development of soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities. Through higher education, students have the opportunity to enhance their communication skills through engaging in oral and written presentations. They also gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills through collaborative projects and coursework that challenges them to think creatively and analytically.

A well-rounded education provides students with a breadth of knowledge across various disciplines, enabling them to approach problems from different perspectives. This interdisciplinary thinking allows professionals to tackle complex problems in the workplace and come up with innovative solutions. It also fosters adaptability, as individuals with a diverse educational background can easily transition between different roles and industries.

Furthermore, a well-rounded education helps individuals develop strong interpersonal skills, which are highly valued by employers. Teamwork, leadership, and effective communication are essential in today’s professional world, and higher education provides opportunities for students to develop these skills through group projects, extracurricular activities, and internships. These experiences not only enhance their resumes but also build their confidence and ability to work effectively in diverse teams.

Benefits of a Well-Rounded Education

  • Enhanced communication skills
  • Improved critical thinking and problem-solving abilities
  • Interdisciplinary thinking for innovative solutions
  • Adaptability to different roles and industries
  • Strong interpersonal skills for effective collaboration
“A well-rounded education equips individuals with the necessary skills to excel in their professional lives. It not only provides specialized knowledge but also fosters the development of essential soft skills that are highly sought after by employers.”

A well-rounded education is essential for professional success as it prepares individuals to navigate the ever-changing job market. It equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to new technologies, take on leadership roles, and communicate effectively with diverse audiences. By investing in a well-rounded education, individuals can enhance their career prospects, increase their marketability, and achieve long-term success in their chosen profession.

Developing Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

critical thinking

In today’s complex and rapidly changing world, the ability to think critically and solve problems is crucial. Higher education plays a vital role in developing these skills and preparing individuals for the challenges they may face in their personal and professional lives. Through a variety of academic exercises and hands-on experiences, students have the opportunity to sharpen their analytical abilities, approach challenges from different perspectives, and develop innovative solutions.

One of the key aspects of higher education that fosters critical thinking is the emphasis on research and analysis. Students are encouraged to delve deep into their chosen areas of study, gather and evaluate information, and draw informed conclusions. This process not only enhances their ability to think critically but also equips them with the skills to identify problems, break them down into manageable components, and generate creative solutions.

In addition to research, collaborative projects and group discussions are also integral to developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By working in teams, students are exposed to different ideas and viewpoints, which broadens their perspective and enables them to tackle problems from multiple angles. These experiences enhance their ability to communicate effectively, collaborate efficiently, and think outside the box.

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” – Richard Paul
  • Identifying and Defining Problems
  • Gathering and Analyzing Information
  • Generating and Evaluating Possible Solutions
  • Making Informed Decisions

These are just a few examples of how higher education cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By honing these abilities, students become better equipped to navigate the complexities of their chosen careers, contribute to their communities, and face the challenges of an ever-changing world.

International Education and Global Experiences

Higher education offers students the invaluable opportunity to study abroad and engage in cross-cultural learning experiences. These international experiences provide a wealth of benefits, including enhanced understanding of global perspectives, improved language proficiency, and exposure to diverse cultures and ideas. Studying in a different country broadens horizons and prepares students for the interconnected globalized world we live in.

Through studying abroad, students gain a deeper appreciation for different cultures and ways of life. They have the chance to immerse themselves in a new environment, interact with people from different backgrounds, and develop a global mindset. These experiences foster cross-cultural understanding and help students become more adaptable, open-minded, and culturally sensitive.

Benefits of Study Abroad:

  • Enhanced understanding of global perspectives
  • Improved language proficiency
  • Exposure to diverse cultures and ideas
  • Development of adaptability and open-mindedness
  • Culturally sensitive mindset

Moreover, studying abroad also offers the opportunity to gain language proficiency in a real-world setting. Learning a new language or improving existing language skills can greatly benefit students in their future careers. Language proficiency is highly valued by employers in today’s globalized job market, as it enables individuals to communicate effectively with international clients, colleagues, and partners.

By participating in study abroad programs, students not only expand their knowledge and skills but also create lifelong memories and friendships. These experiences help shape their personal growth and broaden their perspectives, contributing to their overall development as individuals.

Immersive and Experiential Learning Opportunities

Colleges and universities are increasingly emphasizing immersive and experiential learning opportunities as an integral part of higher education. These hands-on experiences, such as internships, practicums, and research projects, allow students to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world settings, bridging the gap between theory and practice.

Internships, for example, provide students with the chance to gain practical skills, industry exposure, and a deeper understanding of their chosen field. They work alongside professionals in a professional setting, acquiring valuable on-the-job experience and building relationships that can lead to future career opportunities.

Furthermore, research projects enable students to explore their academic interests in depth and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Whether it’s conducting scientific experiments or analyzing data, research experiences allow students to contribute to existing knowledge while honing their analytical abilities and gaining expertise in their chosen field.

By participating in these immersive and experiential learning opportunities, students not only enhance their knowledge and skills but also become more marketable to potential employers. They can demonstrate their ability to apply theoretical concepts to real-world situations and showcase their adaptability, initiative, and problem-solving capabilities.

Hands-on Learning Experiences

  • Internships provide practical skills and industry exposure
  • Research projects foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Real-world experiences enhance marketability to employers
“Immersive and experiential learning opportunities provide students with invaluable hands-on experiences that bridge the gap between academia and the real world. These practical experiences not only enhance their skills and knowledge but also make them more attractive to potential employers.”

Building Research Skills and Experience

One of the valuable aspects of higher education is the opportunity for undergraduate research and capstone projects. These endeavors allow students to delve deeper into their chosen fields, develop valuable research skills, and gain hands-on experience in project management. Undergraduate research provides a unique platform for students to explore their interests, contribute to their academic disciplines, and make meaningful contributions to the wider research community.

Engaging in undergraduate research cultivates critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Students learn how to formulate research questions, design experiments, collect and analyze data, and draw meaningful conclusions. This immersive experience helps them develop a strong foundation in research methodologies and prepares them for future graduate studies or careers that require independent research skills.

Opportunities for undergraduate research:

  • Collaborate with faculty mentors on ongoing research projects
  • Participate in summer research programs
  • Conduct independent research projects
  • Present research findings at conferences or symposiums
“Undergraduate research provides a unique platform for students to explore their interests, contribute to their academic disciplines, and make meaningful contributions to the wider research community.”

Additionally, capstone projects serve as a culmination of a student’s academic journey, allowing them to demonstrate their comprehensive knowledge and skills in a specific area. These projects often require students to integrate what they have learned throughout their courses and apply it to real-world problems or scenarios. Capstone projects foster creativity, interdisciplinary thinking, and effective communication skills, which are highly valued by employers in various industries.

By participating in undergraduate research and capstone projects, students not only enhance their academic resumes but also develop essential transferable skills that are highly sought after in the job market. These experiences demonstrate a student’s ability to think critically, manage complex projects, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their field.

The Power of Leveraging Alumni Networks

Alumni Network

When it comes to navigating the job market and finding career opportunities, having a strong network can make all the difference. That’s where alumni networks come in. These networks consist of graduates from the same college or university who can provide invaluable support, guidance, and connections to recent graduates.

Networking with fellow alumni opens doors to a wide range of job search opportunities. Alumni can offer insights into specific industries, information about job openings, and even act as mentors throughout the career exploration process. They can provide advice on resume writing, interview preparation, and career development strategies based on their own experiences.

Additionally, alumni networks often organize career events, job fairs, and panel discussions, giving students and recent graduates the chance to directly engage with industry professionals. These events provide networking opportunities, allowing individuals to establish meaningful connections that can lead to job interviews, internships, and other career-related endeavors.

The power of leveraging alumni networks extends beyond finding job opportunities. Alumni who have established themselves in their respective fields can serve as role models, inspiring recent graduates to strive for success. They can share their insights and wisdom, providing guidance on navigating the challenges of the professional world. By tapping into these networks, recent graduates can gain access to a wealth of knowledge and support that can significantly enhance their career journeys.

Connecting Through Alumni Networks: Tips for Success

  • Stay connected: Maintain regular contact with alumni through social media platforms such as LinkedIn. Engage with their posts, share relevant industry news, and reach out for advice or guidance when needed.
  • Attend alumni events: Take advantage of opportunities to attend alumni events, both in-person and virtually. These events provide a chance to network, gain insights from successful professionals, and expand your connections.
  • Utilize career services: Many colleges and universities offer specialized career services for alumni. These services can help you refine your job search strategies, polish your resume, and provide access to exclusive job postings.
  • Give back to the network: As you progress in your own career, remember to give back to the alumni network. Offer mentorship to current students, participate in alumni panels, and share job opportunities with fellow graduates.

By actively leveraging alumni networks, recent graduates can tap into a wealth of resources, support, and opportunities. Building and nurturing these connections can significantly enhance the job search process and pave the way for long-term career success.

Active Community Engagement

Active community engagement is a fundamental aspect of higher education, promoting interdisciplinary thinking and civic responsibility. By getting involved in their communities, college students have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to society and make a positive impact. Whether through volunteer work, service-learning projects, or community-based research, students can develop a deeper understanding of social issues and develop the skills necessary to address them.

Benefits of Community Involvement:

  • Interdisciplinary Thinking: Engaging with diverse communities exposes students to a wide range of perspectives, fostering interdisciplinary thinking. This allows for a holistic understanding of complex problems and the ability to approach them from multiple angles and disciplines.
  • Networking and Collaborative Opportunities: Community involvement provides students with valuable networking opportunities. Building connections with community leaders, organizations, and fellow volunteers can lead to collaborations, internships, and future job prospects.
  • Civic Responsibility: Higher education instills a sense of civic responsibility, teaching students the importance of active participation in their communities. By engaging in community service and addressing social issues, students become informed citizens who are committed to making a difference.

Community engagement also serves as a platform for students to apply their academic knowledge in real-world settings, reinforcing their learning and enhancing their problem-solving skills. It allows them to connect their coursework with practical experiences, further preparing them for the challenges they may face in their future careers.

In conclusion, active community engagement is a vital part of higher education, fostering interdisciplinary thinking, nurturing civic responsibility, and providing rich learning opportunities. By engaging with their communities, college students gain a deeper understanding of societal issues, develop valuable skills, and contribute to the greater good. Through community involvement, students can make a meaningful impact and become well-rounded individuals prepared for the challenges of the world beyond the classroom.

Personal Growth and Independence

Higher education offers more than just academic knowledge; it is a transformative phase that fosters personal growth and independence. College provides students with the opportunity to develop essential life skills and gain a sense of self-reliance. Time management is a crucial skill that students learn while juggling coursework, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs. By managing their time effectively, students cultivate discipline and learn to prioritize tasks, leading to increased productivity and success.

Independence is another valuable aspect of higher education. Living away from home and being responsible for one’s own decisions and actions enables students to explore their individuality and gain a sense of autonomy. College provides a safe environment for students to navigate their own paths, make choices, and learn from the consequences. This newfound independence allows individuals to discover their strengths, passions, and values, and prepares them for the challenges of adulthood.

Furthermore, higher education encourages personal development by exposing students to diverse perspectives and experiences. Interacting with classmates from different backgrounds and cultures broadens one’s horizons, fosters empathy, and promotes open-mindedness. College campuses often offer a variety of clubs, organizations, and leadership opportunities, allowing students to explore their interests and develop new skills. This exposure to diverse experiences and self-discovery contributes to personal growth and prepares individuals for success in all aspects of life.

“Higher education is the catalyst for personal growth and independence. It equips students with essential life skills, cultivates independence, and fosters a sense of self-reliance. The college experience provides a supportive environment for students to develop their time management skills, discover their passions, and gain a sense of autonomy. By investing in higher education, individuals embark on a transformative journey that prepares them for the challenges of adulthood and sets them up for success in all aspects of life.”

Benefits of Higher Education for Personal Growth and Independence:

  • Developing essential life skills such as time management, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • Gaining independence through living away from home and being responsible for one’s own choices.
  • Experiencing diverse perspectives and cultures, fostering open-mindedness and empathy.
  • Exploring interests and passions through extracurricular activities and clubs.
  • Fostering personal growth and self-discovery through exposure to new experiences.


Higher education not only provides academic knowledge but also plays a pivotal role in personal growth and independence. By developing essential life skills, gaining independence, and experiencing diverse perspectives, students are prepared to navigate the challenges of adulthood and thrive in all aspects of life. The college experience helps individuals discover their passions, cultivate discipline, and embrace their individuality, setting them on a path towards personal fulfillment and success.

Discovering Passions and Interests

Higher education provides a unique opportunity for individuals to embark on a journey of self-discovery and exploration. With a wide range of academic disciplines, diverse classes, and extracurricular activities, students have the freedom to delve into their interests and discover their true passions. Whether it’s experimenting with different majors, engaging in hands-on research projects, or participating in clubs and organizations, college offers a supportive environment for students to uncover their unique talents and strengths.

Academic freedom is a cornerstone of higher education, allowing students to explore and pursue knowledge in areas that ignite their curiosity. Unlike high school, where the curriculum is structured and limited, college empowers students to take control of their education and delve deeper into subjects that captivate their interests. This academic freedom fosters a sense of intellectual independence and critical thinking skills, preparing students to become lifelong learners who actively pursue knowledge and engage with the world around them.

Quote: “College is not just about preparing for a career; it’s also a time of personal growth and exploration. It’s a time to discover who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you want to contribute to the world.” – John Smith, College Graduate

Exploring Diverse Disciplines

  • Students have the opportunity to take classes across various disciplines, exposing them to a broad range of subjects and perspectives.
  • By exploring diverse disciplines, students can identify new areas of interest and potential career paths they may not have considered before.
  • Through exposure to different fields of study, students develop well-rounded knowledge and interdisciplinary thinking skills.

Engaging in Extracurricular Activities

  • Participating in clubs, organizations, and extracurricular activities allows students to explore their interests outside of the classroom.
  • Extracurricular involvement provides opportunities for personal growth, leadership development, and the cultivation of valuable skills.
  • Through extracurricular activities, students can connect with like-minded individuals and build lasting friendships and professional networks.

By embracing self-discovery and academic freedom, higher education empowers individuals to find their passion and purpose. It opens doors to new possibilities, expands horizons, and equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to make a meaningful impact in their chosen fields. The journey of self-discovery and exploration that takes place in college is a transformative experience that shapes individuals’ futures and sets them on a path towards personal and professional fulfillment.

The Power of Networking and Connections

Building a strong professional network and establishing valuable connections is essential for success in today’s competitive job market. Networking during your college years can open doors to exciting career opportunities, provide mentorship, and create lasting collaborations. By actively engaging with fellow students, professors, and professionals in your field, you can expand your network and lay the foundation for a successful career.

Professional networking allows you to connect with individuals who share similar career interests and aspirations. Through networking events, career fairs, and industry conferences, you can meet professionals who can offer valuable advice, insights, and guidance. These connections can provide you with valuable industry knowledge and help you stay informed about the latest trends and advancements.

Additionally, networking can lead to career opportunities that may not be advertised publicly. Many job openings are filled through personal referrals and recommendations. By nurturing your professional connections, you increase your chances of being referred to exciting job prospects that align with your skills and interests. Your network can also provide support and guidance throughout your career journey, offering a sounding board for ideas, connecting you with new opportunities, and becoming valuable mentors.

Achieving Personal Goals and Overcoming Challenges

Higher education serves as a transformative journey, enabling individuals to achieve their personal goals and overcome challenges along the way. Whether it’s the pursuit of a lifelong dream to obtain a degree, the desire to set an example for family members, or the determination to conquer personal obstacles, higher education provides a platform for growth, resilience, and self-fulfillment.

Throughout the educational journey, students encounter various challenges that test their perseverance and resilience. From demanding coursework to time management pressures, each obstacle presents an opportunity for personal growth and development. By embracing these challenges head-on and developing effective coping strategies, individuals not only achieve academic success but also gain valuable life skills that will serve them in their future endeavors.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” This quote by Malcolm X highlights the importance of education in shaping our destinies and unlocking our full potential. The pursuit of higher education empowers individuals to break barriers, overcome limitations, and reach new heights of personal achievement.

The journey of achieving personal goals and overcoming challenges is as unique as the individuals themselves. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  • Identifying personal goals and aspirations
  • Developing a plan of action to achieve these goals
  • Staying motivated and focused, even in the face of setbacks
  • Seeking support and guidance from mentors and peers
  • Maintaining a positive mindset and embracing the learning process

By embarking on the journey of higher education and persisting through challenges, individuals not only achieve personal goals but also gain a sense of self-fulfillment and confidence that will serve them well in all aspects of life.

Higher education is of paramount importance for both personal and professional development. It equips individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge, and opportunities to excel in their chosen fields and achieve their goals. With a higher education degree or certification, individuals have a competitive edge in the job market, earning significantly higher lifetime incomes compared to those without such qualifications.

Moreover, higher education provides a well-rounded education that goes beyond specialized knowledge. It fosters the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, which are highly sought after by employers. Additionally, higher education offers opportunities for immersive and experiential learning, enabling students to apply their knowledge in real-world settings through internships, research projects, and other hands-on experiences.

Furthermore, higher education offers invaluable international experiences that broaden students’ horizons, enhance their understanding of global perspectives, and improve their language proficiency. Additionally, colleges and universities provide platforms for networking and connections, which can open doors to career opportunities, mentorship, and ongoing support. By investing in higher education, individuals can achieve personal growth, overcome challenges, and pursue their passions.

Why is higher education important to personal and professional development?

Higher education provides individuals with the necessary skills, knowledge, and opportunities to enhance their career prospects, pursue their passions, and achieve personal growth.

What is the wage gap between individuals with a degree and those without one?

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn 84% more in their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, highlighting the financial benefits of higher education.

How does higher education help individuals adapt to an evolving job market?

Higher education equips individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a technology-driven world, preparing them for jobs that require an advanced understanding of AI technologies and ensuring they remain competitive.

What are the benefits of a well-rounded education for professional success?

Employers value individuals who possess strong communication skills, critical thinking abilities, and a breadth of knowledge across various disciplines. Higher education provides opportunities for students to develop these essential soft skills, making them more attractive to employers.

How does higher education help develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills?

Higher education teaches students how to think critically and solve complex problems through engaging in critical thinking exercises, oral and written presentations, and collaborative projects. These skills are highly sought after in the professional world.

What are the benefits of international education and global experiences?

Studying abroad enhances students’ understanding of global perspectives, improves their language proficiency, and exposes them to diverse cultures and ideas, preparing them for the interconnected globalized world.

What are the benefits of immersive and experiential learning opportunities?

Hands-on experiences such as internships, practicums, and research projects allow students to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world settings, gaining practical skills, industry exposure, and a deeper understanding of their chosen field.

How does undergraduate research experience benefit students?

Engaging in research projects helps students develop valuable research skills, project management abilities, and demonstrates dedication and personal discipline, which are highly valued by employers.

How can leveraging alumni networks benefit students?

Alumni often provide support, mentorship, and networking opportunities to recent graduates. They can offer valuable advice, information about job openings, and act as panel members during career events, enhancing job search prospects and providing industry insight.

How does higher education promote active community engagement?

Higher education equips graduates with the knowledge and skills to tackle societal challenges from an interdisciplinary perspective, leading to more active community involvement and smarter civic decision-making.

What personal skills does higher education help develop?

Higher education helps students develop essential life skills such as time management, problem-solving, decision-making, and prepares them for the challenges of adulthood.

How does higher education help individuals discover their passions and interests?

College provides students with opportunities to explore a range of academic disciplines, take diverse classes, and engage in extracurricular activities, allowing them to find their true passions and potentially leading to fulfilling careers and a sense of purpose.

How can networking and connections benefit students during and after college?

Networking with fellow students, professors, and professionals in their field opens doors to career opportunities, mentorship, and collaborations, providing guidance, job referrals, and ongoing support throughout their career journey.

What personal goals can be achieved through higher education?

Higher education provides a platform for individuals to achieve personal goals such as obtaining a degree, setting an example for family members, overcoming personal obstacles, and experiencing growth, resilience, and self-fulfillment.

Source Links

  • https://www.peace.edu/news/why-is-higher-education-important/
  • https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/education/why-is-college-important
  • https://www.msudenver.edu/15-reasons-why-college-is-important-for-your-career/

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More From Forbes

A path to value in higher education.

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A new report from Strada Education Foundation identifies strategies and metrics that can redefine ... [+] what success looks like for states and colleges, with a focus on value.

As tuition rates continue to climb and debates swirl about whether or not college is worth it, many higher education leaders are rightly shifting their focus to the concept of value . Though it can be difficult to measure and quantify value, there is growing recognition across the field that if we are going to restore confidence in higher education, we need to address the questions of return on investment.

It is no longer enough to focus solely on getting more people enrolled in college or even to increase completion rates; the emphasis now needs to be on preparing learners for what’s next in their journey. But how do we ensure that our investment in higher education will open doors to well-paying careers and provide opportunities for economic mobility?

Last week, Strada Education Foundation put forward a new set of ideas designed to help higher education leaders address this issue. Their State Opportunity Index identifies strategies and metrics that can redefine what success looks like for states and colleges, with a focus on value.

While there are bright spots across the country, as the State Opportunity Index makes clear, there is significant room for improvement in every category.

The report establishes two criteria that should serve as bookends in colleges' quest for value. First, are states adequately measuring and publicly reporting the connection between postsecondary education and employment, or as Strada frames it “clear outcomes”? Second, how well aligned are higher education programs with well-paying jobs that are available in the labor market?

Strada finds the strongest performance among states in the clear outcomes category, which is critical for both helping college leaders make decisions about program improvement and empowering students and families to make informed choices about which opportunities to pursue.

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Roughly half of states currently qualify as “leading” or “advanced” in their data collection and transparency practices. This is a good start, but more states need to embrace their role as the hub of critical data and information sources that are too often disconnected, siloed and underleveraged. For example, only a few states have enhanced their wage records to produce insights on occupational outcomes of high school graduates and college graduates, which is critical for understanding the success of the full education and training pipeline. Even fewer can disaggregate this information by demographics, which limits the ability to understand equitable outcomes.

At the other end of the spectrum is employer alignment. When considered from the labor market perspective, value in higher education can be measured at least in part via a supply and demand analysis; to what extent are education systems producing the supply of talent needed to meet employer demand? Or from the learner perspective, how available are postsecondary programs that lead to well-paying jobs in their communities?

According to the report, that alignment is generally lacking. No states meet the criteria to qualify as “leading” in this area, and the majority are not graduating enough students from postsecondary institutions with the credentials needed to land well-paying jobs in high-growth industries such as IT, business, healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

This mismatch presents an opportunity for higher education systems; if postsecondary leaders want employers to look to their institutions as talent pipelines and economic development partners, they should prioritize harnessing data to be more responsive to labor market needs and produce the talent employers are looking for to fill key roles. Strada finds that Rhode Island and Utah are currently leading the country in meeting talent demands in what it terms “opportunity jobs,” which are of particular importance because they are well-paying and under-supplied entry-level positions with potential for upward mobility.

The report then goes on to unpack two other critical elements of students’ higher education experience that, when delivered effectively, can lead to greater economic opportunity and mobility. These include students’ access to quality career coaching and advising, and to work-based learning experiences such as paid internships.

Colleges in most states have considerable work to do for these experiences to become the norm for their students. Nationally, only a quarter of graduates from community colleges and a fifth of graduates from four-year institutions experienced personalized career coaching. And when it comes to paid internships, only one out of four four-year students and one out of 10 community college students were able to participate. As Strada points out, career coaching and paid internships are both highly correlated with students’ future career satisfaction and their ability to make progress toward their goals, so increasing the availability of these supports and experiences can go a long way to addressing questions of value and return on investment.

And finally, this report shines the spotlight on college affordability, acknowledging that the costs of college need to be within reach of all students in order for higher education to live up to its promise. Recognizing that much research has already been done on this topic, Strada takes a somewhat unique angle in asking the question of how many hours students would have to work annually to cover the net price of their college education. Put differently, could students afford to work their way through college?

Perhaps not surprisingly, community colleges fare better than four-year institutions on this indicator, but the report finds wide variation across states. California and Washington are the most affordable states for students to attend college, according to the report.

By taking a deep dive into five measurable dimensions of value in higher education, Strada’s analysis elevates important questions about how to center on value within the broader continuum of education to careers.

This means building strategies aimed at the ultimate goal of career and economic value at every level. It means shifting K-12 education from a narrow focus on high school graduation rates as the key indicator of success to more meaningful measures of students’ readiness tied to their postsecondary success. It means—as State University of New York Chancellor and former U.S. Secretary of Education John King put it during the launch event for Strada’s report— shifting higher education leaders’ perspectives on the impending demographic cliff from a fixation on the scarcity of 18-year-olds to the abundance of adults over the age of 25 who would benefit from building new skills and earning a high-value credential.

In this case “value” means not just whether students graduate, but how well their education prepares them for what’s next.

A shift in focus to delivering value at every stage of the education to workforce pipeline could yield tremendous benefits for both individuals and economies. Strada’s State Opportunity Index offers a quantifiable framework for making that shift in higher education; other players with a stake in preparing students for meaningful careers can look to this approach to shape their own applications of value.

Matt Gandal

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Curious Desire

Quench Curiosity

15 Reasons Why Higher Education Is Important?

September 15, 2023 by Aatka Azhar

Higher Education is important because it helps an individual to gain knowledge and skills that can be used in the future. It is a way for students to prepare themselves for the career they choose and create opportunities for better employment.

Higher Education allows students to connect with leaders in various fields of study who were once just like them. They can share ideas, knowledge, and experiences that they have gained throughout their years of learning . Here are the reasons why higher education is important.

Table of Contents

15 Benefits Of Higher Education For Human Life

The importance of higher education has been widely debated, and in the past , many people seemed to believe that education was not as important as it is today. However, in this day and age, people have realized the importance of higher education which has made them change their minds about its true value.

When we look at all of the benefits of higher education, it is easy to see why many people have begun to value it so much. Here are some of the main benefits that come from going through higher education.

1. Higher Education Provides Opportunities For Better Employment

Higher Education not only provides skills that may be used in the future, but it increases one’s possibilities of getting a job. Many companies or employers find people with degrees more attractive than individuals without degrees, which makes having a degree very important when it comes to getting hired by their company .

It also has an advantage for them to send employees for further training to keep up with the current trends.

Why Higher Education Is Important

2. Higher Education Provides Skills For The Chosen Career

Higher Education does not only provide an advantage when it comes to employment but in gaining the skills needed for the future career path of an individual. Students can gain new knowledge and expertise that can be used in their chosen field of study when they graduate .

3. Higher Education Increases Self-Confidence

Having a degree can help boost students’ confidence as they can become more aware of the things that they have been taught throughout their years in Higher Education. They learn how to work towards their goals despite any challenges they may come across and this boosts their self-confidence .

4. Higher Education Provides New Perspectives And Opinions

Higher Education opens up the minds of students to new ways of thinking and allows them to gather new perspectives that they have never encountered before. This can help them be more open-minded when it comes to their views on certain issues, which can create a better understanding among other people in society .

Reference Video – Benefits Of Higher Education

5. higher education gives students life-long learning skills.

Higher Education allows students to learn more about themselves and what they are capable of doing. It also teaches them to never stop learning throughout their lives which helps decrease any possibility of feeling bored.

They will always have something new to learn in life whenever they wish to do so.

6. Higher Education Helps Students Connect With Others

Higher Education does not just teach students how to be more responsible and determined about their own goals, but it allows them to connect with others who are in the same field as they are . This allows them to share ideas and knowledge which will help them achieve their goals faster.

 It is also a good way for students to build relationships with others in their chosen field of interest which can turn into friendships or even romantic relationships.

7. Higher Education Gives Students Exposure To Different Cultures

Higher Education allows students (who are not from the same country) the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures and people which can help them become more tolerant and understanding towards others. They can recognize different cultures and be more open about them, which is a good trait to have in society today.

8. Higher Education Allows Students To Discover Themselves And Their Goals

Higher Education allows students to discover themselves and their true goals in life that they may not have been aware of before enrolling in Higher Education. They are also able to understand what they want to achieve and how they will go about achieving those goals, which will help them become more determined and responsible as individuals.

9. Higher Education Helps People To Gain A Better Understanding Of The World And Society

Higher Education helps people gain a better understanding of the world and society around them by allowing them to explore different cultures, beliefs , values , and other aspects that make up our society.

This is because once students gain an education, they are more likely to understand the impact that their actions have on others in society which leads them to gain a better understanding of their own culture and beliefs, among other things.

10. Higher Education Allows Students To Pursue Their Dreams

Higher Education allows students to pursue their dreams and passions in life despite any difficulties or challenges that they may come across. This is because students will always have the support of the people around them which can help them achieve anything that they put their mind to.

11. Higher Education Helps Students Develop As Individuals

Higher Education helps students develop as individuals by allowing them to think about their strengths and weaknesses. They can focus on self-improvement and how they can become the best version of themselves, which is a very important quality to have as an individual in society today.

12. Higher Education Gives Students A Better Sense Of Responsibility And Determination

Having degrees and other qualifications gives students a better sense of responsibility and determination . It will make them feel more valued as a person because once they complete their higher education successfully, it allows them to land a job in a field of interest which helps them become more valuable for that aspect of life.

13. Higher Education Helps Students Feel A Sense Of Achievement

When students have a degree, it gives them a sense of achievement which is very beneficial for their mental health . Many benefits come from having higher education, and this is one of the most important ones to have in life because it allows people to feel more accomplished with what they have achieved in life.

14. Higher Education Gives Students A Sense Of Direction And Purpose

Higher Education gives students a sense of direction and purpose by allowing them to stay focused on what they are passionate about, their goals, and how to get there. This is because once students get into Higher Education it helps them learn more about themselves which will help them achieve their goals. After all, they will know what they are striving to achieve.

15. Higher Education Helps Students To Prepare For The Future

Having a degree not only gives students the skills that may be useful for their future careers , but it also gives them the qualifications needed to land a job in their chosen careers. In addition , Higher Education also provides students with the knowledge and education that they need to meet all of society’s qualifications for entering different places such as universities or colleges.

Importance Of Higher Education – Conclusion

By reading this article we came to know its importance for human life. The importance of higher education cannot be stressed enough, and currently, everyone needs to have some form of higher education.

This is because by completing these courses students can broaden their horizons which allows them to develop new skills that can help them with their careers or future goals. Higher Education helps students develop as a person and helps them to become confident in their abilities which is a valuable trait to have.

  • https://www.peace.edu/blog/why-is-higher-education-important/
  • http://www.goodchoicesgoodlife.org/choices-for-young-people/the-benefits-of-higher-education/
  • https://www.allisonacademy.com/students/education/higher-education/the-benefits-of-higher-education/

nimra basit on curious desire

Hello, I am Aatka Azhar. I have done bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. Writing articles is my passion through which I explore so many things. So, I am using my passion by working here and it will be the source of knowledge for the readers.

What is Happening to U.S. Higher Education?

By Olivia Robertson

Recent technological advancements and new players have shaken up various industries, like entertainment and transportation. Now, these same changes are affecting higher education in America. New research out of Vanderbilt Business uses Layton’s marketing systems theory to understand the disruptions of the academic system. 

Pictured: Jen Riley is laughing in her Vanderbilt Business headshot.

“ United States Education Structure is Under Stress: Exploring the Destabilization of Academia’s System Settings ” emphasizes that while education leaders don’t directly control these changes, their decisions can impact the outcomes and structure of the U.S. higher education system. Co-authored by Jen Riley , Morgan M. Bryant , Kate Nicewicz-Scott , Amy Watson , and Tiffanie Turner-Henderson , the study aims to analyze how the U.S. higher education system deals with these disruptions. The authors discuss 3 primary power shifts influencing how education is marketed and provide a reference for academic leaders to make decisions and take action in response to these changes.

“Our work critically examines these shifts by intertwining historical perspectives with the demands of today’s evolving landscape, emphasizing the need for transformative change within higher education,” says Riley. 

What is Layton’s theory of marketing systems?

Layton’s theory of marketing systems is a framework that looks at how changes in power, technology, or societal values act as catalysts, sparking a series of events in a system. This system involves the exchange of goods, services, or ideas. Once a catalyst occurs, opportunities and threats arise, and people or institutions respond based on self-interest, mutuality, and morality. The outcome is a transformation of the marketing system, affecting offerings and how it contributes to the community’s well-being. Layton emphasizes adapting to these changes to remain relevant and influential.

The authors discuss how the American Industrial Revolution was the “technological shock” that led to the transformation of higher education into what it is today. At the turn of the 20th century, many prominent American universities were established, focusing on applying science to industry needs. Now, higher education faces another revolution marked by technological, economic, and cultural changes. These shifts question the value of the exchange between society and U.S. higher education, leading to power shifts in various aspects. This tension pushes for a change in the types of educational offerings, causing traditional institutions and degrees to lose perceived and actual value. 

“To remain relevant, higher education must evolve and adjust program offerings to fit current market needs,” says Riley. “Failure to evolve may lead to declining relevance and influence as society seeks greater value elsewhere.”

What are the governance and political influences on higher education in the United States?

Recent scandals like the ‘ Varsity Blues ‘ and partisan politics have eroded trust in college leadership with increased political influence over universities. This influence is exemplified by instances like former Senator Ben Sasse becoming president of the University of Florida amid protests. Political appointments in university boards have risen, and students’ contributions to university budgets have doubled in the past 40 years. Yet, despite reduced allocations, states maintain significant influence. Recent legislative actions target tenure , DEI initiatives , and expenditures. Supreme Court rulings have favored conservative positions, impacting affirmative action and race-conscious admissions, prompting calls to end similar programs at institutions.

Does accreditation matter in the U.S. higher education system?

Accreditation signals quality and legitimacy, particularly the AACSB designation for business schools. Maintaining this accreditation focuses heavily on faculty research, creating a disconnect with student-centric objectives. While being a great researcher doesn’t necessarily correlate with practical teaching, there is value in the research-teaching nexus, especially in experiential learning. However, institutional emphasis on research poses challenges. Public distrust in scientists has increased , impacting the perceived value of inflated tuition funding scientific research, and critics argue that research doesn’t necessarily benefit student learning, especially when faculty are juggling teaching priorities for paying students with expectations for research productivity. 

“The current structure creates a tension between resource allocation and student success,” the authors write. “Considering the looming threat of a decline in prospective students due to a shrinking population, it is crucial to prioritize student outcomes and retention.”

How does macromarketing impact the desire for higher education in the United States?

Prior research indicates one macromarketing (big-picture, economic, and societal) effect of a successful higher education marketing system is the evidence of community quality improvement. However, Americans have lost confidence in the economic benefit of higher education, questioning its payoff, affordability, and access . Recent studies indicate a declining enthusiasm for college among Gen Z, with 50% believing a college degree is unnecessary. With the national birth rate decline since the 1960s posing challenges, there aren’t enough young workers to replace retiring Baby Boomers, threatening the historically counter-cyclical nature of the economy and demand for education. And, despite a growing need for skilled workers, many Americans feel that colleges and universities are not adequately preparing graduates for the workforce.

How has competition, especially technological, affected U.S. higher education?

Google, a key player in digital marketing , introduced Career Certificates as an affordable alternative to traditional degrees, making education more widely accessible. Google partnered with universities, shifting classroom responsibilities to external entities. By collaborating with universities, Google is a curriculum provider that bridges the gap between professors’ expertise and current industry practices. This partnership shifts traditional classroom responsibilities from professors to external, for-profit entities. Google’s approach, outlined in the company’s marketing materials, encourages faculty to provide “wraparound support” to a curriculum they did not participate in creating or delivering. Similar models are adopted by other companies like Ziplines Education, formerly GreenFig , which partners with prestigious institutions to support or replace traditional education.

Guild Education , a for-profit company, brokers employer-sponsored education benefits, directing millions of adult learners to selected programs. Industry leaders like Bloomberg and Salesforce offer branded certificates, emphasizing skills over degrees. Guild Education’s influence as a power player in education is significant, directing millions of credit hours. Despite its limited partnership with less than 1% of 4-year degree-granting institutions, it manages tens of millions of credit hours, establishing itself as a significant educational power player. Its focus on employer-sponsored adult learners positions Guild Education as a disruptive force. In turn, many companies, including Google, no longer require degrees for all hiring, focusing on skills and experience, further emphasizing the significance of Guild Education and similar opportunities.

The shift toward skills-based hiring and technology implementation in education is reshaping the value and demands of higher education. In addition to the presentation of one’s skills via certificate becoming more prominent and desirable, the pandemic accelerated the shift to online learning, emphasizing the need for educators to adapt to modern tools and experiential teaching methods. Additionally, COVID-19, leading to the switch to online learning, strengthened theories that traditional classroom learning environments were no longer sufficient, leading universities to show how they can provide value to in-person students, especially given the high price tag of higher education. 

Conclusion: How do Layton’s model and industry shifts affect higher education?

The described changes place a significant responsibility on academia to make informed and strategic choices to stay relevant. Layton’s model emphasizes the need for adaptation, showcasing the unidirectional nature of the system setting arrow. Implementing simulations and modern technology may divide instructors, requiring a critical examination of traditional market system structures. Proposing innovative models that optimize self-interest, mutuality, and morality could make traditional institutions more adaptable. The suggestion of collaboration between professors and industry leaders could bridge the knowledge gap and decrease university overhead. 

“ This manuscript underscores the urgency for academia to evolve and address current challenges in a meaningful way,” says Riley.

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‘Think About What They’re Bringing With Them, What They’re Navigating and Why it’s Important for Us to Cultivate These Spaces that are Relational,’ Says Professor Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Starr Minthorn of Native Students During 6th Annual Don C. Locke Symposium

why higher education is important

Native American student enrollment over the past decade has declined by about 40% among undergraduates and nearly 20% among graduate students, and those who do enroll and graduate do so at lower rates than their peers, according to data shared by Professor Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Starr Minthorn.

Minthorn, a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Don C. Locke Multicultural and Social Justice Symposium, the sixth annual event held by the NC State College of Education on April 8, 2024. 

During her talk, entitled “Indigenizing the Academy: Cultivating Heartwork that Centers Relationality and Holistic Spaces,” she spoke about ways to help Native students thrive in higher education settings, including acknowledging their often complex identities, connections to their ancestors and land, and the struggles many face as they navigate college as first-generation students. 

“When you think about working with Native students, or even with other communities of color, think about what they’re bringing with them, what they’re navigating and why it’s important for us to cultivate these spaces that are relational, that are humanizing and that give us an opportunity to bring joy, to bring presence and visibility to our Native students in ways that are intentional,” she said. 

During her talk, Minthorn shared several high-impact practices scholars and universities can adopt, and questions to consider, in order to better support their Native students: 

  • Acknowledge their strong commitment to ancestors’ stories:   “For me, I think of me as a previous Native student and now as a native scholar, thinking about my own ancestors’ stories of how we were very close to not being in existence today.”
  • Make degree attainment relevant: “How can we utilize our education in ways that we can give back to our communities and ways that we make sure we’re contributing back?”
  • Create opportunities to remain connected to home: “How can we incorporate our practicums or other things that we’re doing, like our student teacher experiences, back to home communities? Do we give them a chance to go back home and do that?”
  • Honor their experiences and knowledge: “Know that even when they’re [first] coming in, they’re bringing knowledge with them.”
  • Create a home away from home: “How do we cultivate a space and place on campus or in our schools so that students feel that they have a safe space?”
  • Create intergenerational opportunities to connect: “Are we bringing elders in so that Native American students have a chance to connect with them?”
  • Create pathways for Native American students to give back: “As Native students are thinking about graduating, probably one of their first thoughts is about how they can give this education back to their community or how they can give it back to the broader Native population.”

Doctoral Student Heysha Carrillo Carrasquillo Receives Don C. Locke Award

why higher education is important

Heysha Carrillo Carrasquillo, a student in the College of Education’s Ph.D. in Teacher Education and Learning Sciences educational equity concentration, received the Don C. Locke Multicultural and Social Justice Award during the annual symposium Monday evening. 

The award is presented to students who demonstrate a commitment to multiculturalism, social justice, and advocacy and have a positive reputation among faculty, peers and community partners in the College of Education.

In the nomination for the award, Associate Professor of English Education Crystal Chen Lee cited Carrasquillo’s former work as a bilingual teacher, leader and community organizer as well as her current work as a volunteer for Mariposas, a community of Latine youth and families in Chapel Hill; her work with refugee students through the Literacy and Community Initiative (LCI) and her role as a founding member and secretary of the Latine Graduate Student Association at NC State. Carrasquillo is also currently serving as a guest editor on a special edition of the academic journal Holistic Education Review entitled “Education for Holistic Wellbeing: Exploring intersections and common purpose with social justice and equity.”

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College of Education Awarded $4 Million in Grant Funding From October 2023 Through March 2024 

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Distinguished University Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education Hollylynne Lee Leads Team Named Finalist in 2023-24 Tools Competition 

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Goodnight Distinguished Professor in Educational Equity Maria Coady, Assistant Teaching Professor Joanna Koch to Examine Dual-language Immersion Programs in Rural North Carolina Settings through Spencer Foundation Grant 


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Onboarding New Employees — Without Overwhelming Them

  • Julia Phelan

why higher education is important

Give people the space and time they need to thrive in their new job.

A great onboarding experience can keep new hires engaged and committed, and increase their learning and preparedness for their new role. In trying to ensure new employees feel supported and properly prepared, some organizations flood new hires with far too much information. Even if managers have the best intentions, bombarding new hires with tasks  — such as asking them to read every single page of the employee manual or requiring them to get set-up on Slack, email, Box, and all the other platforms all at once — will backfire. Three strategies can help organizations mitigate this overload and ensure employees have the space, time, and mental resources available to learn and thrive in their new job.

We know that effectively onboarding new employees has huge value. A good onboarding process — with clear information on job requirements, organizational norms, and performance expectations — not only enhances employee productivity but helps increase loyalty and engagement, and decrease s turnover .

  • JP Julia Phelan , Ph.D. is a learning design consultant and expert in applying learning science principles to create effective learning experiences. She works with organizations to help build a strong workplace learning culture by improving training design, implementation, and outcomes. She is the co-founder of To Eleven , and a former UCLA education research scientist. Connect with her on LinkedIn .

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