There's more to a college degree than a higher salary.
The conversation about degrees often overlooks the public benefits of having more people graduate college, argues Philip Trostel, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine at Orono. He identifies four societal benefits associated with college degrees.
1. College grads correlate to higher salaries all around
"It is hardly surprising that regions of the country with higher proportions of college graduates have higher per capita incomes," writes Trostel. But what is surprising is the extent to which it is true.
According to Trostel, the amount of aggregate income that college graduates create is actually greater than the total amount of the higher incomes the graduates receive themselves.
"A college education not only raises the productivity and income of those getting the degrees but also raises the productivity and income of others," writes Trostel.
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2. College grads mean lower taxes
On account of their higher incomes, college graduates pay higher taxes than those who do not graduate college—in fact, over the course of a lifetime, graduates with bachelor's degrees pay $563,000 more in taxes than those who do not have a degree.
Because they pay higher taxes, Trostel explains, college graduates actually end up financing public goods that benefit everyone.
What's more, college graduates don't receive nearly as much public assistance in Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, or unemployment benefits as those who do not earn degrees—which means they ultimately reduce the amount of taxes the public must pay to support these services.
3. College grads donate and volunteer more
"College attendance increases generosity significantly," writes Trostel. On average, college graduates donate more than three times more money per year to charities than do those who do not earn college degrees.
Relative to income, college graduates donate an average of 2.3% of what they make, which is more than double the non-graduates' average donations of 1.6%. College graduates also volunteer at a rate that is 2.3 times higher than the rate at which non-grads volunteer.
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4. College grads participate more actively in democracy
Graduates vote at higher rates and are more politically involved, writes Trostel. They are more engaged community members as well, and tend to:
- Participate more in community organizations;
- Work on more community projects;
- Interact more with neighbors; and
- Be less involved in crime.
Trostel also notes several additional areas where college degrees pay off, which are "almost impossible to quantify," such as:
- Positive influences on the arts;
- Positive influences on culture;
- Contributions to innovation; and
- Overall higher tolerance.
"In short, college education helps make our communities better places to live," argues Trostel (Trostel, Chronical of Higher Education, 2/1).
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