Higher education leads to increased earnings, supports Utah’s society, and economy

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Utahns who earn certificates or degrees at institutions within the Utah System of Higher Education experience increased income, expanded employment opportunities, and improved health outcomes according to a recent brief from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The brief not only presents compelling data on the personal advantages of higher education but also highlights the broader societal and economic benefits higher ed has on the state.

The data reveal that many educated citizens contribute positively to Utah’s society, leading to higher volunteer and voter participation and reduced participation in public assistance programs. The data also emphasizes the strong economic benefits higher education has as a major employer in Utah.

Key findings from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute’s Brief on The Value of Higher Education.

People with higher educational attainment enjoy greater incomes, economic stability, and quality of life.

  • Increased earnings – Median earnings rise with years of education attained while poverty rates and unemployment rates decline.
  • Reduced disparities and higher economic mobility – Students with a family member with a postgraduate degree are far more likely to complete postsecondary education. The share of individuals with family income higher than their parents is greater among those with a college degree.
  • Better health outcomes – Utahns with more years of education report higher rates of excellent, very good, or good health and higher rates of health care coverage.
  • Improved outlook – Individuals with a postgraduate degree or certificate are happier, healthier, and more confident in their future.

Society derives valuable benefits from an educated citizenry.

  • More civic engagement – Individuals with more education have higher volunteer rates and voter participation.
  • Decreased reliance on public assistance – As individuals receive more education, they rely less on public assistance. Several studies show postsecondary degree attainment significantly reduces the use of public assistance among Utahns, including one study that found nearly half of graduates with bachelor’s degrees who previously used SNAP never participated in SNAP again.
  • Return on investment – It is estimated that every $1 the state invests in public higher education returns $3 in tax revenues from increased wages of Utah college and university graduates.
  • Increased tax revenue – Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher pay 1.8 to 3.4 times more in taxes than high school graduates.

Higher education benefits Utah’s economy through job and business creation, workforce development, and innovation.

  • Major employer – Utah’s public higher education system supported an estimated 130,000 jobs and $8.3 billion in labor income in 2023, making it one of the largest employers in the state.
  • Substantial economic contribution – Public higher education contributes $11.3 billion to Utah’s economy. Because of their research mission, Utah’s R1 research universities (U of U and USU) generate 82.6% of this economic impact.
  • Workforce development – Approximately 203,000 students are enrolled in a USHE degree-granting institution as of Fall 2023, gaining knowledge and skills to prepare them to contribute to Utah’s workforce. These graduates will generate increased earnings, economic activity, and tax revenue.
  • Skilled workforce – Utah’s employers consistently report skilled labor as one of their greatest needs. An estimated 71% of USHE graduates received high-yield degrees in 2022, filling critical Utah workforce needs.
  • Research and innovation – Utah’s research universities bring in outside research funding, fueling innovation and leading to the creation of new companies, high-impact innovation, and field-changing discoveries.
  • Education multiplier – Education services in Utah have a relatively high economic multiplier of 2.1. That means every direct contribution related to education services multiplies within the economy over two times.

Learn more and read the full policy brief here.

Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director