Regardless of their reason for enrolling, nearly all college students see higher education as an investment in their personal and professional futures. And there's plenty of evidence to suggest that obtaining a college degree may help improve graduates' economic prospects. But research into the lasting effects of higher education has turned up some surprising benefits to both individuals and society that come about when people earn a college degree.
The College Board, using data and surveys from the U.S. Census, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics, and other studies of the civic benefits of higher education, offers details on these benefits in a yearly report called 'Education Pays'.
Here are some of the highlights.
College graduates are more likely to describe themselves as being in excellent or good health than less-educated individuals, regardless of income level or age.
In 2005, about 9% of college graduates were smokers, compared to about 20% of American adults overall. Smoking college graduates were more likely to report that they had tried to quit in the last year. And a higher percentage of college graduates reported that they had never smoked at all, compared to those without a college degree.
Those with a bachelor's degree or higher were more likely to report engaging in regular exercise, and more likely to report that their exercise was vigorous.
Regardless of age, college graduates vote in greater numbers than their less-educated counterparts, and are more likely to vote in off-year elections. The difference in voting habits is much more pronounced in the 18-24 year old age group: younger people are generally less likely to vote than older adults, but college graduates pick up the slack for their less-educated counterparts.
Evidence also suggests that those with some college education or a college degree are more likely to volunteer, and spend more time engaged in volunteer activities. In a similar vein (no pun intended), 9% of college graduates have donated blood regularly, compared to a 4.6% average among those without a four-year degree.
There are many positive gains associated with families where a college graduate is head of the household. First, college degree holders and their families are far less likely to claim public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid, than households without a college graduate.
The educational status of a mother is also associated with stronger developmental skills among children. Preschool aged children (defined as those aged 3-5) whose mothers have a college degree are more likely to be able to identify letters of the alphabet, count to 20, and write their names than children with less educated parents. Children with college-educated parents are also more likely to participate in extracurricular activities like sports and scouting.
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