Education

Iowa study links higher ed with community gains

'College changes everything for everyone,' report says

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The amount of education Iowans receive after high school can improve not only their standard of living, but also the communities in which they live, according to a new state study analyzing the impact of a postsecondary education.

The Iowa College Aid report, released last week, analyzed recent U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data and focused on Iowans ages 25 and 64.

The governor’s goal is to have 70 percent of people in that age range obtain some form of post-high school training or education by 2025.

The study found that about 65 percent of Iowans in that age range already have some form of college education — though 22 percent don’t have a degree — which is better than the national average of 62 percent.

Still, Iowa College Aid last year reported the share of Iowans 25 and older attending college was 61 percent — only a slight improvement over the starting point.

But the apparent benefits of going to college after high school abound, according to the new report — which is careful to note it observed correlations and not direct causes and effects.

The associations show consistently better earnings, standards of living and even social contributions the more education an Iowan receives.

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The unemployment rate for Iowans with a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree hovers between 1 and 2 percent. But the unemployment rate for Iowans with just a high school degree was 4.5 percent, according to the report. And for those with less than a high school degree, the rate soared to almost 8 percent.

When comparing Iowa’s educational attainment with the nation as a whole, the state shows about the same percentage of those with some college but no degree and about the same percentage of those with bachelor’s degrees — 21 percent in Iowa, compared with the 20 percent national average.

Iowa reports a greater percent with associate’s degrees — 13 percent to the nation’s 9 percent — but fewer with graduate or professional degrees — 9 percent to the nation’s 12.

But getting that extra bump can mean a lot for an Iowan’s earning potential, according to the report. Median weekly earnings for those with graduate or professional degrees topped $1,200, compared with about $900 for those with bachelor’s degrees and about $600 for those with only a high school diploma.

And then there’s the correlation between higher education and quality of life.

Less than 85 percent of Iowans who never attended college self-reported their health as “good, very good, or excellent,” compared with 91 percent among associate degree earners, 93 percent for bachelor’s degree holders and 97 percent for those with higher degrees.

“The exact reason for a strong association between health and education level is unclear,” according the report, which added, “Previous studies have suggested that education helps to foster more responsible health-related decisions and behaviors.”

It noted that less than 5 percent of those with graduate and professional degrees reported smoking, compared with about 25 percent of those with less than a high school diploma.

Those figures play into the potential for broader community benefits of getting more residents more education.

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Far more Iowans with a high school diploma or less tap public assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps and free- and reduced-price lunches, the report said.

The study found about 17 percent of high school degree earners had health insurance through Medicaid, compared with 10 percent of associate degree holders and 5 percent of bachelor’s recipients.

The correlation translated to civic engagement as well, with bachelor’s, graduate and professional degree earners far outpacing those with a high school degree or less when it comes to voting, volunteering and donating to charity.

Using three years of data, the study found the share of Iowans reporting they had volunteered jumped from about 21 percent for high school graduates to 35 percent for those with associate degrees and 52 percent for those with bachelor’s degrees.

Despite those apparent benefits, the report doesn’t shed light on how to keep those who get a higher education in Iowa from leaving the state — an oft-cited concern.

In response to questions from The Gazette, Iowa College Aid Executive Director Mark Wiederspan pointed to a 2017 sample of 24- to 27-year-olds born in Iowa that showed more than 19 percent of those with graduate and professional degrees left the state, compared with nearly 13 percent with bachelor’s degrees, 3 percent with associate’s degrees and 7 percent with some college but no degree.

But the report is clear in its conclusion that postsecondary degrees are associated with not only lifetime earnings, lower unemployment, better health and civic engagement, but broader community gains.

“It is true that college changes everything, and not just for the Iowans who obtain a degree — college changes everything for everyone,” the report said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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