The Importance of Public Higher Education
Higher Education is a Public Good
Inequality defines the state of Connecticut. In 2015, we became the state with the largest income gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99%. Income inequality is linked to lower social mobility, reduced economic growth, and political marginalization.
Historically, government funding for public higher education was considered essential as the path to enhanced economic opportunities that reduced social inequality. Recent scholarship shows this, in fact, to be the case.
People with advanced degrees have significantly higher incomes, are healthier, live longer, have more successful marriages, and are happier.
On average in 2012, Americans with bachelor’s degrees (and without graduate degrees) receive the following benefits in comparison to high school graduates never attending college:
- Annual earnings are about $32,000 (134 percent) higher.
- Lifetime earnings are, conservatively, about $625,000 (114 percent) greater
- The incidence of poverty is 3.5 times lower.
- Job safety is greater. The incidence of receiving workers’ compensation is 2.4 times lower.
- The probability of being employed is 24 percent higher.
- The likelihood of being unemployed is 2.2 times lower.
- The likelihood of reporting health to be very good or excellent is 44 percent greater.
- The incidence of a disability making it difficult to live independently is 3.6 times lower.
- Life expectancy at age 25 is seven years longer.
- The probability of being in prison or jail is 4.9 times lower.
- The probability of being married is 21 percent higher and the probability of being divorced or separated is 61 percent lower.
- The likelihood of being happy is significantly higher.
Investment in higher education also saves the government and taxpayers money.
Residents with higher degrees pay more in taxes, use less social services, and contribute more to the income of their local communities than do those who have only completed high school. It is, in fact, an excellent investment.
From each four-year degree over a lifetime:
- Total tax revenues increase
- State income taxes increase by about $52,500.
- Local property taxes increase by $38,000.
- State and local sales taxes increase by more than $27,000.
- Federal income taxes increase by $238,000.
- Federal payroll taxes increase by $115,500.
- Total government spending decreases
- Various forms of public assistance decrease by more than $10,000.
- Medicaid benefits decrease by almost $21,000.
- Medicare benefits decrease by $9,500.
- Social Security benefits decrease by $9,000.
- Supplemental Security Income payments decrease by almost $6,000.
- Unemployment compensation decreases by more than $1,500
- Worker’s compensation decreases by $1,500.
- Spending on corrections decreases by more than $21,000.
- Spending on public healthcare decreases by almost $5,000.
- The average annual real internal rate of return is estimated to be 10.3 percent.
- The average net fiscal effect for individual states is, conservatively, almost $82,000 per four-year-equivalent degree.
Public Higher Education is Under Threat
Despite the acknowledged benefits of higher education, states like Connecticut recently have reduced their funding of public colleges and universities as a way to save money. For more on Connecticut's support for higher education.
In an effort to lower the costs of education that is no longer funded publicly, institutions and legislatures have turned to corporatization, privatization, and an emphasis on vocational training. This threatens the quality of the education the vast majority of citizens can afford. The elite send their children to schools where their learning needs are paramount; the majority have their institutions and the value of their degrees eviscerated. What is wrong with corporate school reform.