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Utahns with better educations fare better in jobs, life and family, new poll shows

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 17 2011 2:57 p.m. MDT

LEHI — Utahns who have a higher education degree or certification have a better income level, feel happier, have a better family life and use less public assistance than those who do not have a post-secondary education.

According to a new Dan Jones & Associates poll released Wednesday, Utahns with a degree or certification have an income level 75 percent higher than those who do not, and are also two-and-a-half times more likely to hold salaried positions.

"Over the course of their work life, students who receive a baccalaureate degree earn about $650,000 more than high school graduates — a significant increase over those who end their education right after high school," said Commissioner of Higher Education Bill Sederburg. "The benefits of a college degree extend beyond monetary value too, as individuals with college degrees experience increased career opportunities, better health care benefits and overall a deeper quality of life."

The poll surveyed 1,200 Utahns, evaluating them on highest level of education, degree type, household income, current employment status, job type, employment benefits, civic engagement, use of government assistance and family education.

The key findings in the poll were that Utahns with higher education were more likely to fare better in today's turbulent economy, have a happier life and are 50 percent more likely to vote and more likely to donate to local charities and volunteer their time than those without a degree or certification.

The poll shows that nearly one quarter of Utahns with no degree or certification have experienced more than two years of total unemployment, compared with only 9 percent of those with a post-secondary education.

Across the board, people polled said their post-secondary education has had a positive effect on key factors related to their lives and families compared to those without. Degree and certificate holders are more likely to report personal happiness, to have a better perception of their relationships, to characterize themselves as having good families, and to report having better health than those without a degree or certification.

The poll was commissioned by Prosperity 2020, a business-led group consisting of several Utah chambers of commerce, higher education officials, state economic development experts, the United Way and the Utah Technology Council.

"Money doesn’t buy happiness, but there is a clear connection between the level of education an individual achieves and the level of happiness he or she has in life," said Gordy Haycock, managing partner for the Salt Lake City office of Grant Thornton and a member of Prosperity 2020.

The survey data also showed a "ripple effect" among Utah children. A child with parents who did not earn a degree had a 27.8 percent chance of earning one. If one parent earned a degree, that number rose to 41.8 percent, and if both parents have degrees the number peaks at 55.2 percent. Students with both parents and at least one sibling with degrees had the highest chance at 80 percent.

Individuals without a degree or certificate are more than twice as likely to have used Medicaid, WIC, and CHIP in the last five years, and over three times as likely to have used food stamps.

"The fact that those who obtain a level of education beyond high school make more money won’t surprise many," said Mark Bouchard, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis and chairman of Prosperity 2020. "What we see from the survey is that the benefits go well beyond the paycheck."

One surprising finding is the reasons poll respondents said as to why they never obtained a degree. About 36 percent said marriage and children were the top reason. The second and third top reasons were that a degree was too expensive and that they couldn't balance school with work.

The poll is partially in response to Utah lawmakers, who wanted a study of just how valuable higher education is in the job market. The poll was presented Wednesday to members of the Utah Legislature's Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Subcommittee co-chair Rep. Michael Morley, R-Spanish Fork, said the poll results clearly show that Utah's universities and colleges need to be more flexible in helping people obtain a degree while juggling jobs and family.

"We as a state need to look at ways to provide a better delivery system and be more flexible," Morley said, pointing to for-profit universities and their offering of flexible class schedules. At this point, Morley said he feels universities tend to tell students that it's either their way or no way.

Morley also said degrees should be evaluated for market demand and that taxpayer money should go toward supporting degrees that the job market has a demand for.

Some lawmakers have called into question the specific value of certain college degrees. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, co-chairman of the Legislature's education committee, has questioned the labor market value of nonscience degrees — something Stephenson has called "degrees to nowhere."

But overall, lawmakers say it's clear that a better-educated community has great benefits.

Nationwide, Americans with at least a four-year bachelor’s degree tend to be employed more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in July 2011, the unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree was only 4.3 percent, compared to 15 percent for those who have not finished high school, 9.3 percent for those who have only a high school diploma but no secondary education.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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