Do We Fully Understand the Impact of Higher Education on Society?
The answer to this question may vary. In general, most people do believe that a post-secondary education of some type is valuable, both for the individual and for society. The question becomes this: what constitutes higher education? Does it refer only to a four-year college degree or higher? Or can it refer to a community college associate’s degree or certifications from vocational-technical programs? If we consider all of these some form of “higher education,” then the vast majority of people do believe that there is value in its citizenry pursuing it.
The Importance of Education to Economic Growth
The law of supply and demand refers to a simple principle. When something is a surplus on the market, its value goes down. And when something is rarer in a market, its value increases.
And so it is with a workforce. When skills are not in demand, and their value decreases, incomes are low, and more people with those skills will be unemployed. When skills are in high demand, their value increases. Incomes are higher, and per cent employed is high.
Today, in societies that are considered both developed and developing, high value is being placed on individuals who have acquired skills and talents that a society needs to move forward economically. Obviously, unskilled labor forces all over the world are finding themselves more and more displaced by technological advances and exploding knowledge in every economic sector.
The march of technology and the resulting elimination of jobs is nothing new. It has occurred throughout modern history. The industrial revolution served to displace huge numbers of craftsmen and farm hands, as machinery and mass production eliminated their jobs. Workers had to acquire new skills to remain employable. Probably the most recent visible example is the coal industry. As the demand for coal declines, replaced by cleaner forms of energy, and as coal companies develop the technology to mine without human labor, these miners are out of work.
We are now in a newer type of revolution – one in which technology is performing many of the tasks that humans once did – skilled tasks. The future will be related to areas in which humans can collaborate with machines to perform work. While there continue to be some service-related jobs for those without higher educations, they are low-paying positions that ultimately will be phased out too.
Some professional service-related positions will remain, of course – doctors, nurses, lawyers, for example – but these require higher education, of course.
How Important is Higher Education to Society?
An educated populace promotes a strong society. It has high expectations for its government and services; it demands accountability of it elected officials and participation in their government; it demands civility and ethics. An educated populace tends to make decisions based upon rational thought processes rather than emotional impulses. Higher education impact on society cannot be ignored.
And an educated populace is also far more worldly-wise. It is aware of other cultures and has some understanding of their societal principles. This fosters tolerance, an important “commodity” in an ever-shrinking world.
An educated populace also accepts and comes to embrace evolutionary movements and change as a natural occurrence, and this keeps a society moving forward and remaining competitive throughout the world.
An educated populace is healthier. It understands disease and disease prevention; it tends to adopt healthier lifestyles because of its understanding of the impact on their well-being and longevity.
Statistics show that educated mothers have less than half the infant mortality rate as those in uneducated societies. Educated parents also tend to have fewer children, based upon their ability to afford to raise them well. And they plan for their kids’ long-term futures, including higher education. This perpetuates societal principles and goals.
Citizens in a society who have higher educations tend to have not just skills and talents. They have confidence to take on challenges, in their workplace, in their communities, and globally. They are more likely to volunteer and take their participation seriously.
Innovation comes from educated members of societies. They embrace problems and challenges and look for solutions. Uneducated populaces tend to accept the status quo as normal and see no way that they can make a contribution to improvement.
Educated citizens take responsibility for their own financial stability. They do not rely on their governments to “take care of them;” they are more self-sufficient and, if further education is necessary to upgrade their skills and remain financially stable, they will look for opportunities to do just that.
Educated citizens know how to access information, and they know how to question the information and the sources of that information, in order to arrive at the truth.
The importance of higher education in today’s society is thus a “given.”
The Importance of Education in Social Life
One of the things that a post-secondary education does is prepare students to relate to a wide variety of individuals. They are exposed to a diversity that they do not encounter in their smaller world of non-education. And thus, they do not acquire the social skills that are necessary for functioning in a wider society. And they are thus less attractive to potential employers.
How the Uneducated Tend to View Higher Education
In societies in which higher education is not valued or accessible, there is a population that is not motivated to set and achieve goals. They do not question their governments; if there is a change in government, it is not a peaceful transition; and they do not foster personal development/improvement in their children. They are ignorant of the higher education impact on society.
In developed societies that still have an uneducated demographic, there is the reality that these individuals have little future within that society. And the belief of uneducated parents is often that life experience is more important than education. They do not value higher education and do not impart any value of such education to their children. This perpetuates future generations who remain uneducated and without the skills to participate in a healthy and growing economy. In short, this demographic is left behind – in high unemployment, dependence upon government services, and lifestyles that tend to be unhealthy. Ultimately, this becomes an expensive demographic for society to support.
Clearly, the solution for developed societies is to intervene in this demographic with its young people. Using their public secondary school experiences, it will be up to teachers, counselors and others to prove that post-secondary schooling will make a difference in their lives. The cycle of lack of education can be broken with enough effort on the part of educators.
So, Is Education Important for Success in Life?
The short answer is yes, absolutely. And yet, we know of several individuals who gave up their higher educations to pursue their dream. But, these are exceptions. Education can provide saleable skills and talents that employers are looking for; on the job, the educated can relate to demographics different from their own.
On a more important level, an education allows an individual to feel good about himself within. It is an accomplishment that inspires confidence and a sense of personal accomplishment. And this in turn means that the educated individual has a valued position in society.
Toward a New Definition of Higher Education
Traditionally, the term higher educations has always referred to four-year college and university programs. But this, too, is changing. As students realize that they can pursue coursework not connected to four-year institutions and acquire the skills that make them employable, they understand that they have less expensive and less time-consuming options, and they will be more motivated to pursue those options.
An educated populace means that the citizens have skills and intellectual capacities that are in demand and that benefit society in meaningful ways. And there are levels of post-secondary education that can all meet societal needs.
So, Do We Understand the Impact of Higher Education?
The answer, as a developed society, is yes, we do. To retain a position in the world community; to encourage and promote innovation; to ensure that our citizens continue to see value in higher education, for themselves and their offspring, there must be policies in place that will assist students to stay in school.
Most developed nations do assist students, by providing free post-secondary educational programs to their citizens. Even in the U.S., where the cost for higher ed programs is borne by students themselves, some states are moving to make community college free.
The verdict is certainly in. Societies that place value on higher education and that do everything they can to make that higher education accessible to all, understand the higher education impact on society, and will ultimately thrive in these times of rapid change.