Higher Education Attainment Delivers Strong Rewards

Higher education attainment for adults has never been more important. In 2008, Lumina Foundation set the goal that 60 percent of Americans would have a high quality postsecondary credential by 2025. This goal was to have American workers acquire the knowledge and skills required to have the opportunity for meaningful work. At that time, 37.9 percent of American adults had a postsecondary credential. As of 2018, the latest year where data is available, 51.3 percent of adults have degrees or credentials. This increase is good, but increasing higher education attainment is important, especially with problems created by COVID-19 and changing work demands.

Research shows a relationship between higher education attainment and quality of life in areas of income, civic participation and personal well-being. Quality of life is higher among people who have a college degree or other credential and lower among people with a high school diploma or less. This will continue in the future, says the Lumina Foundation. “As human work evolves to require broader knowledge, skills, and abilities, the rewards for individuals with talent signified by possessing these credentials will only increase. Conversely, those without such credentials will face a declining quality of life and a downward spiral in their financial and social well-being.”

This means that without higher education attainment 90 million working-age Americans could be facing a bleak future. Labor economists predict that two-thirds of adults will need a degree, certificate or other credential to meet their personal needs.  And American businesses, society and culture will not benefit from the contributions these Americans could make. These doom and gloom predictions are not a foregone conclusion. Lumina Foundation predicts that higher education attainment will increase to 56 percent by 2025, at the current rate of enrollment and retention. Many of these people are ready to work toward higher education attainment.

About half of adults without higher education credentials believe the need higher education to advance. Most of them list their top reason for going to school are better jobs, higher wages, and long-term employment opportunities.  Many of these adults are already on their way to higher education attainment. In the US, 36 million people have some college but have not completed their degree. The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center estimates that 10 percent of this group is “potential completers,” people who have a high potential to finish their degree. Most of these students made significant progress toward their degree up until their last year of enrollment.  Most of these students left school because of financial problems or family responsibilities, not because of academic failure.

Higher education attainment for these students is highly possible with support from employers that offer tuition assistance benefits. Adults who have some education but no degree have already invested time and money into their education. Support that makes it possible for them to continue their education is important. Students who are able to re-enroll and continue their education without any further interruption generally can complete their programs quickly. In fact, those the median time to completion for those who do not stop out after re-enrolling is 1.5 years. Financial support in the form of tuition assistance makes this possible.

In addition to working to help individuals complete their degrees, Lumina Foundation is also working with community college to increase the number of people earning short-term credentials. Employers who offer tuition assistance to support employees earning certificates, certifications or other short-term credentials are helping them gain relevant-work related skills. Short-term, stackable credentials can become steps to degree completion, creating advantages for workers who face the need for continual education and retraining.

Employers who support their employees working toward higher education attainment are developing a skilled workforce that will successfully adapt to changes created by new technology and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing tuition assistance for employees seeking higher education attainment, and helping the US reach Goal 2025 is beneficial to all.

Lumina Foundation Strategic Plan states, “Ultimately, a better-educated country means stronger individuals, a stronger society, and a stronger nation. The United States will be more nimble and adaptable, allowing individuals and organizations to seize more opportunities, ensuring the American promise is met.”

By Kathleen Eischeid, Edcor Business Development Coordinator