by Jonathan M. Turk
Research continues to show that college graduates earn more over their lifetimes, contribute more in taxes, are more engaged with their local communities, and live healthier lives than individuals without a college education (Ma, Pender, and Welch 2016). However, far too often the public discourse around the benefits of college is focused predominantly on bachelor’s degree earners, overlooking the value that associate degrees can provide. As a result, students and their families may not be receiving enough information to adequately consider all of their college and career options.
To that end, in the fourth and final brief of the series, the author explores the impact earning an associate degree has on five key outcomes in early adulthood: (1) employment status, (2) wages, (3) homeownership, (4) voting rates, and (5) volunteerism. These outcomes represent not only the individual economic returns expected from higher education, but also some of the benefits society enjoys by having a more educated citizenry. Across the five models, results indicate earning an associate degree significantly improves a student’s chances of being employed, earning higher wages, owning a home, voting in federal, state, and local elections, and volunteering relative to students who do not enroll in college.
In light of these findings, the author makes two overarching recommendations for practitioners at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels:
- Emphasize the economic benefits of associate degrees to students and their families, beginning in high school.
- Implement new academic and student support models to increase completion rates at community colleges.