Building Motivation for Higher Education Completion

Students often run into two barriers when they are pursuing higher education: lack of program planning and lack of motivation. These barriers to higher education make it difficult for many nontraditional students to persist at a time when that education is extremely important. Degrees are becoming more essential as our economy, businesses and labor demands require more technical skills and a wider knowledge base.

The Brooking Institute recently released a report discussing program planning and motivational barriers in terms of community college completion, but these barriers apply to every level of education completion. And degree completion is as important for businesses as it is for individuals. Low completion rates present a challenge for these workers who don’t find top earning opportunities available. They are a challenge for employers who can’t find employees with skills that qualify them to be part of the labor force.

Current predictions are that by 2020, only two years from now, about 65 percent of American jobs will require a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or some college. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists 48 types of jobs that require an associate’s degree for entry level positions. The predicted growth rate for 69 percent of these jobs is as high or higher than average, showing that employment opportunities will exist for those with postsecondary education.

The earnings premiums for individuals who complete postsecondary education are a primary reason for earning a degree. The average earnings for people completing an associate’s degree are 37 percent above those with only a high school diploma. That equals about $4,600 for men and $7,160 for women per year. Earnings for people completing a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree are even greater, with 71 and 99 percent increases over those with only a high school diploma.

The job opportunities that pay these higher earnings are the top motivation for students pursuing higher education. A Strada-Gallup Education Consumer Survey showed that getting a good job was the motivation for:
• 72 percent of people with post graduate education
• 60 percent of people with technical or vocational education
• 55 percent of bachelor’s degree earners
• 53 percent of associate degree earners

Strong, specific motivation is important for maintaining a path toward completion. People who have more general motivation, such as increasing learning and knowledge, rather than having a career goal may be less focused and successful, on a pathway to complete their education. “Those who start a higher education pathway and fail to complete it are more likely than those who complete theirs to report general aspirations for learning and knowledge as their top motivation. Students’ clarity of purpose and focus is emerging as an important construct to understand for all who seek to increase completion,” the Strada-Gallup survey report states.

Career opportunities create the purpose for employees to seek and persist with higher education. Businesses are in a unique position to develop motivation by including an education advising plan. Employees can see both plan and purpose to their education pursuits with career opportunities, job growth and education requirements defined. And this leads to success.

Academic advising as an integral step in a tuition assistance plan creates the plan for students. It outlines both the ultimate career goal (purpose) and the education pathway (plan) for employees to reach their goal. This moves students toward completion. “Without a specific goal to work toward, it can be difficult for students to maintain their motivation to persist in school,” the Brookings report states.

Removing planning and motivational barriers is especially important for nontraditional students who are working while they attend school. Students who see the relevance of their courses to their jobs and lives are more motivated, perform better and are more likely to persist to completion. Tuition assistance plays an integral part developing both the purpose and plan that lead to education completion.