Time to Tell the Higher Story

Higher education continues to get beat up in the public eye. When will it respond?

During the presidential campaign season last year, candidates focused on the cost of higher education, student debt, making college affordable (or even free). No one talked about the value and impact of higher education. Now, a Pew study indicates 58% of Republicans think higher education is bad for America. This is a dangerous public opinion trend for our nation and our future.

Where’s the counter narrative?

Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University, delivered a strong message at the Ohio Department of Higher Education Efficiency Summit that higher education has done a poor job telling its story and illustrating its value and impact. President Tressel shared data points from a Lumina Foundation report to illustrate the impact of higher education. In comparing high school graduates to college graduates, individuals with bachelor’s degrees:

  1. Earn 56% more annually
  2. Earn an additional $625,000 in lifetime earnings
  3. Are 3.5 times less likely to be in poverty
  4. Are 2.2 times less likely to be unemployed
  5. Contribute $275,000 more in taxes
  6. Are 47% more likely to have health insurance through an employer
  7. Are 3.9 times less likely to smoke
  8. Have a life expectancy that is seven years longer
  9. Are 4.9 times less likely to go to prison
  10. Are 21% more likely to be married and 61% less likely to get divorced
  11. Are more involved in community, more likely to vote, own a home, contribute more to charity, volunteer, are much more likely to report being happy….and…
  12. Only 4.9% of the opioid deaths in Ohio in 2016 had a bachelor’s degree or higher (95% did not have a college degree)

These dozen data points are the tip of the iceberg. We know there are an infinite number of stories that illustrate higher ed’s value and the impact it has on people, economies,  communities, and America.

Now more than ever, we need a comprehensive campaign that provides the counter narrative; one that is influential and, ultimately, changes public opinion, ignites public trust, and prioritizes investing in higher education. Our colleges and universities are the best solution America has for a brighter future.

At SOCHE, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we plan to capture and communicate the value and impact of higher education. While we will focus on our region, we need a coalition of partners to campaign with us to change public opinion nationally, so Pew’s next study produces different results and policymakers trend
toward investment not divestment in higher education.

It’s time to tell the higher story!