Motivation for Higher Education Leads to Prosperity

The primary motivation among adult students pursuing higher education is future job and career advancement. The diverse, nontraditional student population is largely focused on finding ways to achieve more in their careers, in spite of whatever obstacles they may face.

The Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey Why Higher Ed? examined the motivation of more than 86,000 U.S. adults who had made the choice to pursue higher education. Far and away job and career outcomes were the highest motivating factors in all educational, gender and racial demographic groups. Fifty-eight percent of people cited job and career reasons, compared to only 23 percent of people who cited the next highest motivating factor of gaining knowledge.

Among the people citing job and career factors as motivation to pursue higher education were:
• 72 percent with post graduate education
• 60 percent with vocation or technical education
• 55 percent of bachelor’s degree holders
• 53 percent of associates degree holders
• and 50 percent of those who did not complete higher education

People in different social groups also cited job as career factors as their primary motivation, including:
• 59 percent of women and 58 percent of men
• 57 percent of people whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, and 58 percent of those whose parents do not
• 57 to 60 percent of people across all income levels
• 56 to 59 percent of people across varied racial and ethnic groups

Job and career advancement are powerful motivating factors for completing higher education, but the reality is that completion is difficult for many people. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences in Cambridge Massachusetts report The Future of Undergraduate Education says that one of the primary obstacles to completion is the cost of higher education.

The Academy suggests creating a national policy that ensures all students have high quality education, increases overall completion rates and reduces inequities, and manages the costs of higher ed. National strategies are good, but developing them can mean political and policy debates and delays. A solution to help students overcome obstacles to higher education is the tuition assistance plans of forward thinking companies. Tuition assistance for workers who have motivation to improve their job skills and career opportunities removes an obstacle that many people find difficult to overcome. Reducing the cost people have to pay for higher education means that they can focus on the end goal of completion and gaining new career skills, rather than worrying about present or future class costs. This helps to create greater equity in education with opportunity for all workers to pursue higher education.

As good as this is for students and workers, it is equally good for businesses. The end result of businesses developing strong tuition assistance programs can be bigger than individuals’ motivation of career and job advancements. The introduction to The Future of Undergraduate Education states, “Our nation’s effort over two centuries to provide education to everyone who lives and works within the United States is an expression of a core belief, one that has survived a long history of challenges: that all people, through learning, can achieve higher goals for themselves and for society as a whole.”

Just as workers are motivated to pursue higher education for career advancement, their higher education will help business evolve and navigate technological change. The report also states, “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.” Tuition assistance can be instrumental in achieving that prosperity.