Degree Completion is a Worthwhile Investment

There are many layers to the impacts of degree completion: personal benefits, societal rewards, and personal and economic costs, investments and gains.
The Future of Undergraduate Education, released last week by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, discusses the many positive impacts and challenges of achieving bachelor’s degree completion. In recent years there has been a steady increase in the percentage of high school graduates attending college, but not in those graduating. The message of the report is that it is important for this to change. Getting a lot of students into higher education doesn’t do a lot of good if they don’t complete their education. “The completion of a few college courses is not a sufficient education in the 21st century.

There are several reasons why The Academy of Arts and Sciences believes some college is not enough, and that degree completion is important, in our increasingly complex world.
1. Today we live in a heterogeneous nation. By 2040 there will be no racial or ethnic majority in the United States. Education will be an advantage as we live in a world with people who have different histories, cultures and world views.
2. Workers of the future will change jobs and career several times during their careers, and may eventually work in jobs or industries that don’t even currently exist.
3. Education will give citizens the economic, scientific/technological and historical background they need to make informed political and policy decisions. It will help them have the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate 24/7 media.

The report offers a strategy for meeting these needs: degree completion. To achieve this strategy, they believe it is important to ensure that all students have high-quality education experiences, to reduce inequities in education and increase completion rates, and to improve affordability of college.

And the responsibility for carrying out these strategies isn’t with only schools and the government. The responsibility is widespread. The report states, “Ultimately, the future success of the nation will depend on its citizens’ level of commitment to a revised, inclusive ideal of an educated society in which every member is well-prepared to succeed and thrive.”

The commission that wrote the report asked Moody’s Analytics about the scope of the investment that would be required to put changes in place to carry out these strategies. Moody’s concluded that the increasing degree completion is possible, but it would require a lot of investment over a decade or more. They also said it would bring improvement in U.S. economic productivity. A model based on a 20-year projection “forecasts an annual growth in the gross domestic product that is nearly 10 percent higher than it would be without substantial public investment in postsecondary education — an increase large enough to recover the initial investments and continue to grow the economy.” It compared the investment in education to investment in physical infrastructure as a stimulus for communication and commerce.

The report recommended employer partnerships with colleges and universities as an important way to increase degree completion. Helping students understand career pathways and the connection between education and workplace is valuable for both students and employers. A tuition assistance plan is an investment that will help employers develop a workforce that has the education necessary to work into the future. A tuition assistance plan can move people towards degree completion, making education more accessible and affordable.

Tuition assistance plans that help workers achieve degree completion contribute to both personal and societal benefits. In discussing whether undergraduate education is a private good that helps individuals, or a public good that meets larger needs, The Academy of Arts and Sciences states, “The answer, we are convinced, is that undergraduate education is both a public and a private good. We harbor no doubts about the value and benefits of a quality college education—it delivers on its promises of greater individual and social prosperity.”