The Benefits of Higher Education You Might Not Expect

The Benefits of Higher Education You Might Not Expect
portrait of Jessica Bryant
By Jessica Bryant

Published on June 16, 2021

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College is often touted as an important route to individual advancement. Those who have the privilege of attending are generally able to use the skills they obtain in higher education to benefit their career pathways and financial success.

However, postsecondary education is also beneficial to people, as well as society as a whole, in nonmonetary ways. Better health, lower chances of committing crimes or going to jail, and stronger feelings of empowerment — all of which contribute to overall happiness — boast links to educational attainment.

Though these ties aren't always as clear as the financial benefits seen from increased education, what's clear is that educational attainment plays a significant role in positive societal outcomes for individuals and groups.

Tracking Higher Ed's Benefits Poses Challenges

It's often challenging to quantify the direct effects of educational attainment on success, as there are many external factors to consider outside education. Differences in race, socioeconomic status, and opportunities all play a role in life outcomes, just as higher education does.

However, higher education offers benefits that go beyond conventional measures of success, according to a recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) report.

This study found that college attainment correlates with a better self-reported health status, lower mortality rates, and a higher likelihood of healthy behaviors. Lower levels of criminal activity and incarceration, higher levels of marriage, and a greater sense of agency and empowerment were also cited.

3 Surprising Benefits of Postsecondary Education

Higher education's impact on health, crime, and empowerment has been studied intensely by researchers over the last few decades.

Regarding the connection between educational attainment and health outcomes, researchers have consistently found that the higher someone's level of education is, the higher the likelihood is of them being generally healthy and having lower morbidity and mortality rates.

In a 2018 report analyzing education's influence on health, experts found there were at least four possible factors contributing to the better health outcomes of individuals with higher educational attainment:

Economic factors Access to healthcare Health behaviors Social-psychological factors

Of these factors, the economic aspect accounts for an estimated 30% of the positive correlation between education and health. The belief is that education leads to better prospects for stable, long-term employment, which increases income and allows people to accumulate wealth and use it to improve their health.

Economic factors account for an estimated 30% of the positive correlation between education and health.

Conversely, access to healthcare played a much smaller role in explaining disparities in health by education. This led researchers to stress the significance of social inequalities. When it comes to health behaviors, experts found that people with less education are less likely to exercise and more likely to smoke and eat poorly.

From a social-psychological perspective, people with higher levels of education are more likely to have successful sources of social support. This helps them better cope with daily stressors and general complications in life that could impact their day-to-day health.

Over the last 20 years, researchers have found that education can contribute to a generally safer society. At least one expert, Phillip Trostel, estimates that there are four fewer murders, 406 fewer assaults, and 648 fewer property crimes for every 100,000 bachelor's degrees issued nationally.

In 2007, experts found that states with higher levels of educational attainment had lower levels of violent crime.

In 2007, experts found that states with higher levels of educational attainment had lower levels of violent crime than the national average. States that invested more in higher education also boasted lower levels of violent crime and even saw crime decrease as more funds went toward increasing education.

It stands to reason that if higher levels of education contribute to lower criminal activity, they would also be associated with lower levels of incarceration; however, differences in U.S. incarceration rates may be more of a reflection of discriminatory treatment in the criminal justice system.

Researchers found that people of color were, on average, incarcerated more frequently and sentenced longer than their white counterparts with similar educational attainment.

Individuals with higher levels of education tend to report a greater sense of empowerment and control over their lives than their less educated peers, according to the CEW report.

Researchers believe this increased sense of empowerment and agency helps individuals feel less threatened by differences and more tolerant of others.

Most research on empowerment stemming from increased education has been done to examine the effects on women. Some experts find that increasing educational opportunities for women, particularly women of color and immigrants, allows them to take a more active role in controlling their life outcomes.

What Students Should Know About Higher Ed

When making the choice to attend college, students might only think of the ways it can help advance their careers or make them more money. Though an excellent route to career advancement, postsecondary education can also enhance social opportunities and your quality of life.

When deciding whether you want to further your education, consider the other benefits beyond money. As with anything in life, there are no guarantees, but what is known is that the nonmonetary opportunities for growth that stem from higher education are well documented.


Feature Image: Paul Bradbury / OJO Images / Getty Images

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