A study on the value and feasibility of pursuing higher education as an adult.
Degrees of Opportunity: Benefits of returning to school as an adult
According to the Degrees of Opportunity study, most American adults believe the benefits of education are worth the investment — and they see many ways that more education would enrich their own lives.
American adults, whether or not they have returned to school, overwhelmingly agree that the benefits of education are worth the investment.
- 60 percent of adults who have returned to school after age 25 say that the benefits of higher education outweigh the time, money, and energy invested.
- 29 percent say the benefits are equal to the investment.
The top educational benefits identified by U.S. adults reveal a rich mix of pragmatic, personal, and altruistic motivations. They said that getting more education would help them:
- Gain a personal sense of accomplishment (81%).
- Learn about things that interest them (78%).
- Earn a higher income (71%).
- Change to a different career/industry (65%).
- Be a better role model for their children or other youth (58%).
- Do their job better (55%).
- Gain respect at their job (49%).
- Overcome disadvantages they have experienced in life (49%).
- Gain respect from family and friends (48%).
- Advance within their company (48%).
- Start or expand their own company (41%).
- Have a greater positive influence in their community (39%).
- More than half of adults believe that their lives would be better if they had more education.
- 75% agree that the education they have received has made a positive impact in their lives. Those with degrees are even more likely to agree — 89% of those with bachelor's degrees and 94% of those with post-graduate degrees.
- Those with a bachelor's degree or higher are more likely than those without degrees to say that, compared to five years ago, they are earning more, making greater contributions to their companies, families and communities, and finding more job satisfaction.
- Those with a bachelor's degree or higher are also more optimistic that the next five years will find them earning more, making greater contributions, and more satisfied with their jobs.
The well-documented advantages associated with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees include higher earnings, lower unemployment, better health and retirement benefits, and greater job stability.1
Yet, in light of increases in the cost of higher education (202 percent since 1980)2, economists have taken a hard look at the assumption that higher education is still a wise investment in purely economic terms. Finding a 10.9 percent rate of return (in terms of hourly earnings) for each additional year of education, economists Lisa Barrow and Cecilia Elena Rouse conclude: “College is definitely still worth the investment. In fact, there are no signs that the value of a college education has peaked or is on a downward trend.”3
The Degrees of Opportunity study shows that it’s not just economists who see the value in education. According to the survey, 90 percent of U.S. adults agree that the benefits of education are greater than or equal to the investment. Given the cost of education, however, what may be more surprising is that many adults were returning to school for reasons beyond career advancement and increased income. In fact, the two most often cited benefits of education among survey respondents was “a personal sense of accomplishment” and “develop talents/pursue interests.” Clearly, American adults see both tangible and intangible benefits to pursuing additional education.