Educational Attainment Critical to Community Development
The benefits of educational attainment to the individual are well documented, but the benefits to a community can also be significant.
A new study called “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings” was recently released by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. It tells us yet again that the amount of education an individual earns is strongly correlated to their lifetime earning power. “The higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the payoff,” the report states. “What’s more, the gap is widening. In 2002, a bachelor’s degree-holder could expect to earn 75 percent more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma. Today, that premium is 84 percent.”
We all know of individuals such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who have achieved remarkable success without a college degree, but the report makes clear that statistics favor those who stay in school.
On average, the report illustrates, the more one learns, the more one earns. In classic stairstep fashion, it demonstrates expected lifetime earnings rising from high school dropout ($973,000) to high school graduate ($1,304,000) to some college/no degree ($1,547,000) to associate degree-holder ($1,727,000) to bachelor’s degree-holder ($2,268,000) to master’s degree recipient ($2,671,000) to doctorate degree holder ($3,252,000) to a professional degree holder, such as MD ($3,648,000).
The report allows that some occupational clusters (for example, Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics – STEM) will almost always outpace others, such as teaching, regardless of educational attainment. And there will always be some individuals with lower educational attainment who will out-earn those with higher degrees.
Education attainment levels for our area are stunningly low. The 2010 US Census reports that the percentage of American adults over 25 years old holding a bachelor’s degree or higher was 27.5; the Georgia average is slightly lower at 27.1 percent, but the average for Whitfield County was only 15.6 percent. The average for other Northwest Georgia counties ranged from 6.7 percent (Murray County) to 23.3 percent (Pickens County), as reported in the 2010 Census.
Beyond mere brainpower, educational attainment is positively correlated to other factors that shape community well-being.
For instance, The College Board tells us in its “Education Pays 2010” report that those learning more and earning more pay more in taxes and are less likely to receive public assistance, or be incarcerated. College-educated adults are more likely to be insured. They are, on average, more active citizens, sharing their time, talents, and treasure for the benefit of others.
There is a positive link between educational attainment and healthier lifestyle, with lower rates of obesity and smoking reported. Healthier lifestyle means lower healthcare costs among a population that is already better insured.
And college-educated parents engage in more educational activities, such as reading, with their children, who end up being better prepared for school.The evidence is compelling that the better educated the individual, the more direct and indirect benefit there can be to the community. And the more educated the community, the more successful it can be in attracting more educated individuals to live and work there. It’s a cycle worth repeating.