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Jamie Merisotis Headshot

Education Is the Avenue to Prosperity in America

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From the Carnegies to the Kennedys to the Clampetts -- Americans have always had a fascination with the super wealthy. And our cultural curiosity is only magnified with each release of the Forbes 400, or more recently, a breakdown of the wealthiest individuals in each of the 50 states that received a lot of attention on social media.

America's most affluent have made their fortunes in different ways, but one thing is clear: Education beyond high school is the common link among them. Of the 50 wealthiest Americans in the states, only seven did not obtain some form of higher education. And although we're regaled with stories of these dropouts-turned-billionaires, with all things considered, they're of relatively small statistical significance.

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We know that higher education attainment results greater individual earning power. In fact, a worker with a bachelor's degree earns 84 percent more than a worker without a degree - an average value of $2.8 million over the course of a lifetime. And the value of individual attainment is also key to our national economic prosperity because research shows that more than two-thirds of all U.S. jobs will require a postsecondary degree or credential by 2018.

Many states have answered the call for increased higher education attainment, setting ambitious goals and working diligently to graduate more students in less time and at a lower cost. Not surprisingly, those states with the highest rates of postsecondary attainment are also the states whose residents enjoy greater income levels.

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These connections are important because the narrative around prosperity matters. Detractors who question the "worth" of postsecondary learning are not only discounting the economic benefits behind increased attainment, but also the societal paybacks that occur when more of our citizens are educated beyond high school.

By providing greater postsecondary access and success for all Americans, we build stronger economies, thriving communities, and a greater quality of life. It's clear that higher education remains the best avenue to prosperity, opportunity and a stronger nation.