Reaching Higher Education Completion Goals Benefits Everyone

Higher education completion goals set by Lumina Foundation and the US government are designed to create a strong economy and position the United States as a global leader in the number of citizens with degrees and meaningful credentials. The federal goal is for 60 percent of 25-34 year-olds to have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree by 2020. Lumina Foundation’s goal is for 60 percent of working adults to earn a ‘high-quality certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree by 2025.

Successfully meeting these goals would benefit many stakeholders. Individuals with a degree have much greater stability and financial reward in terms of employment. People who have completed a bachelor’s degree are almost two times less like to be unemployed and earn almost $25,000 more per year, than high school graduates. The degree holders will earn almost $1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates.

As great as this advantage is for individuals, people who hold degrees add to the strength and resiliency of the US social structure and economy. People who have degrees and earn higher wage generate higher tax revenue. They are less likely to rely on social and public assistance programs, and more likely to be a positive force in their community. People with higher education enjoy better health, volunteer more in their community, contribute more to philanthropic causes, vote more and have higher rates of political engagement.

With the advantages of higher education completion to individuals, business and the total US economy and society, all stake holders would benefit from concentrated efforts to meet federal and Lumina goals. At the present time 11 countries have higher completion rates than the United States. An analysis by Educational Testing Service (ETS) projects that given the current rate of adult population expansion and degree attainment, the US will not meet the federal goal until 2041 and Lumina’s goal until 2056. That isn’t soon enough for US businesses to have the well-educated, highly-skilled workforce they need. To remain competitive in a global market and to be able to maintain a prepared workforce, the US will need to increase efforts to raise higher education completion rates. “As the American economy continues to become more knowledge-based, a college degree becomes more and more essential. By 2020, about 65 percent of American jobs will require some form of college, compared with just 28 percent in 1973,” the ETS reports states. US businesses and economy will not be fully competitive if higher education completion goals are delayed until 2041 or 2056.

Businesses that have tuition assistance programs have a great opportunity to raise higher education completion rates, and by doing that they can raise economic productivity and social stability. By defining educational and career paths for employees, and encouraging all employees to pursue higher education they can reach growing portions of the population, including minorities and many employees who may be first-generation students. J. Oliver Schak, senior policy and research associate at Ed Trust, says that the Latino population has increased 72 percent since 2000, the black population has grown 25 percent and the white population has remained flat. However, nationally, in the 25-64 age range of working adults, 30.8 percent of back adults and 22.6 percent of Latinos have earned an associate degree or higher compared to 47.1 percent of white adults. These figures show that it is important to encourage all employees to work towards high education completion. Encouraging all employees is how businesses will be able to maintain an educated workforce.

Tuition assistance is a key factor in the growth of the US economy and stability of the society. Tuition assistance that makes it possible individuals to attain higher education completion is just the beginning. As individuals have increased income, they participate fully in the economy stimulating growth. They contribute more in taxes yet rely less on social assistance programs. Higher education completion increases individuals’ social and civil participation creating a stronger society for everyone. Using tuition assistance to build a strong base for higher education completion benefits all.