Educational Adequacy Contributes to Pursuit of Happiness

This week we will celebrate the 4th of July. The day when our forefathers declared our independence. The day when they declared that we all have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The pursuit of happiness can be widely different for many people. However, for many, pursuit of happiness means a life that includes opportunities for economic stability, to provide for their family and hold a rewarding job.

In the US many of these opportunities require adequate post-secondary education. However, defining educational adequacy isn’t a straightforward task. The education required for entry level jobs has increased. Beyond entry level, many jobs require continual education to develop skills that keep workers capable of working with new technology. So, how much education do people need to live today?

A report by The Century Foundation and Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce addresses the issue of educational adequacy. The report concludes educational adequacy in the 21st century requires post-secondary education. Labor, education and economic statistics show that in the next few years 65 percent of all jobs require some post-secondary education: 35 percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree. The educational adequacy report also states that 80 percent of jobs that support a middle-class lifestyle require post-secondary education. By the report calculations, a middle-class lifestyle begins with a salary of $35,000 for an individual, ten years after graduation, and a middle-class family income starts at $50,000. These figures are not goals. They are starting points. According to the report 67percent of workers with associate degree and 85 percent with bachelor’s degrees earn more than $35,000 10 years after graduation.

The authors of Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness: An Economic and Political Perspective show that there is a relationship between financial stability and life satisfaction. “Higher levels of economic freedom increase the chances that individuals have to make their preferred choices – more in charge of their own fates.” Being economically self-sufficient isn’t just about a salary. Economic self-sufficiency also includes a higher chance of being employed, a greater chance of working full-time, and having employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings and paid time-off.

Nonmonetary benefits of higher education also are important in the pursuit of happiness: better health and longer life expectancy, greater political participation and sense of civic responsibility, and stronger social groups. Certainly educational adequacy contributes to the pursuit of happiness when it creates a stable financial life. But the nonmonetary benefits of higher education also create stability that leads to happiness. People with a college degree tend to be happier than those without. “The likelihood of American college graduates reporting that they are “very happy” has stayed the same since 1972, whereas non-graduates were less likely to be “very happy” in 2012 than when polled in 1972. This has created a gap in happiness, based on whether or not a person graduated college.”

Educational theorist Nel Noddings also says that while education can lead to economic stability, it also leads to happiness. “Happiness and education are, properly, intimately connected. Happiness should be an aim of education, and a good education should contribute significantly to personal and collective happiness.”

Colleges and universities have made many efforts to improve the access that Americans have to obtain educational adequacy for today’ fast changing labor markets. Employer tuition assistance plans also make higher education accessible for American workers, creating the opportunity for career advancement, achievement and personal satisfaction. Higher education and achieving educational adequacy can be powerful forces in the pursuit of happiness. Debra Humphreys, VP of strategic engagement for Lumina Foundation says, “We know that high-quality credentials beyond high school can transform lives — that they open doors to economic opportunity and social mobility and help individuals flourish in a challenging world.”