What is Higher Education?

Higher education generally refers to post-secondary education. In essence, it is any schooling that takes place after high school. It can come in the form of career training, continuing education, adult education, a two-year Associate’s Degree or a four-year Bachelor’s Degree. Students can move on to secure a Master’s Degree and ultimately a PhD.

Prestigious American colleges and universities attract hundreds of thousands of international students, researchers and professors. More than half of the highest-ranking learning institutions in the world are located within the United States. Over 600,000 international students attended US postsecondary schools in the 2007-2008 academic year1 a growing trend in American universities and colleges.

Because the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution stipulations that the states hold authority in any powers not expressly granted to the federal government, the states dictated how each university system developed. This resulted in a decentralized system of colleges and universities in America, where each state arranges its university system in a way that fits its particular population’s needs.  In 1980, the United States Department of Education was put into place under the Carter administration. When it comes to higher education, the primary focus of this department is on helping students pay for college. The federal government holds little sway over the way universities are run, but plays a large role in the level of funding schools and their students receive from federal sources.

Because colleges and universities developed independently, the federal government has never developed a system of accreditation. Instead, American schools are rated by private agencies that rate schools on the quality of academics, facilities, publishing records and faculty degrees. Accreditation requires a certain basic level of educational proficiency. For this reason, students should ensure a school is accredited before considering enrollment.

Employment Benefits of Higher Education


Higher education has come to be a necessity in most fields. Even administrative assistants and secretaries benefit from some sort of postsecondary education, such as vocational schooling. Securing an education makes jobs easier to find and promotions easier to acquire.

Postsecondary education is also important for Americans to earn a decent wage. Wages have remained stagnant since the 1970’s, forcing most households to employ both parents in the workforce. Those who are college educated have a better chance of allowing one parent to remain home to care for the children. One person with a Bachelor’s Degree is likely to earn the salary of two high school educated adults. Not only do those with college degrees earn more, they are more likely to secure better benefits at work. These graduates enjoy better health and pension plans.

In addition to the career and financial prospects, a higher education often results in a greater level of job satisfaction for employees, assuming they have degrees in a field they enjoy. This makes career planning very important for students entering college. Higher education is expensive, so it is important to get it right the first time. First year students entering from high school should focus on a variety of subjects to give them the best chance of finding the right career path early on.

Social Benefits

Many high schools students considering college have difficulty imaging what their new lives will be like. The many challenges new students face, like meeting new people, taking on a heavier academic load and living away from home for the first time. Many new students are surprised to learn that other new students have the same fears and concerns. Friendships are formed easily for first year students who have a collective understanding of one another’s concerns. New students also benefit from the exposure to many different cultures and ways of thinking.

For those entering college later in life, there are still many social benefits. Chief among these is the exposure to other personalities, coming from all walks of life. Meeting such people broadens an individual’s view points and increases his or her understanding of the world as a whole.

Societal Benefits

According to a study by the College Board, a non-profit membership association that connects students to college opportunities, higher education benefits more than just the student. Studies show that college students are more likely to engage in and encourage others to engage in health behaviors. These graduates are more likely to volunteer, vote, and donate blood. They are also more tolerant in the differences of others.

Because college graduates earn more, they also pay more in taxes, providing additional funding to social programs. These same graduates are much less likely to utilize the programs their taxes pay for. They are healthier and less likely to need government assistance or to go to jail. As more students gain college education, there is a snowball effect, creating a healthier, wealthier and more vibrant society.

The numbers of Americans with four-year degrees has been steadily increasing since the 1940’s. This means that as more students secure Bachelor’s degrees, the more important it will be for others to do the same in order to compete in the workforce.

Not for Everyone

While a college degree provides great benefits for most people, there are some who choose other options for developing a career that are often just as beneficial. The military provides an excellent career, with good pay, benefits and early retirement. Those with careers in the military often go on to succeed in other fields, using the leadership training from the military in the business world.

Those who wish to pursue careers in the creative arts can get by without a college degree if they are exceptionally creative. Writing is often a skill that can benefit a career without the need of a college education. Writers may be better served to learn something about the world immediately after high school, to develop a depth of character that will serve their craft well. This will depend on the individual.

In the end, those considering higher education must be true to themselves. Going to college solely on the advice of others could be a large waste of time, energy and money. It is important that each individual create their own definition for success. Whether a student chooses to attend college or not, he or she will face hard work and neither course is a guaranteed success or failure.

1. http://opendoors.iienetwork.org/?p=131533