Higher education. What is it? Why do you need it? What do the statistics show? How should you, as a homeschooler, begin approaching higher education? And, most importantly, what is God's plan for your life?

What is it?
I often read articles, hear people speak, and wonder, am I the only one who doesn't know what that term is that they are using? Usually my question pertains to a commonly used term that I should clearly know the definition of, but just don't. Therefore, I'm going to start by defining higher education. Specifically, higher education is education provided by universities, colleges, and other institutions that award academic degrees. Higher education includes both the undergraduate (i.e., college) and the graduate (or postgraduate) levels. Higher education includes most professional education and is strongly vocationally or professionally oriented. Higher education differs from other forms of post-secondary (after high school) education such as vocational education. Vocational education is a form of secondary or postsecondary education but is considered non-academic as compared to higher education. The figure below is an attempt to visually show these levels of education and just where higher education fits in.

Levels of Education

 Stages  Approx. Age  Level

Primary

 4-10 yrs.  Elementary School
 Secondary  11-18 yrs.  High School
 Tertiary *  19-22 yrs.  College
 Quaternary *  23 yrs +  Graduate School

* Higher Education

Why do you need it?
Given that we have a basic definition of higher education, why do you need it? According to many sources I've studied, higher education offers graduates more jobs to choose from than are open to those who don't pursue education beyond high school, and graduates typically earn more than nongraduates. Specifically, the US Census Bureau reported in 2004 that, on average, a college graduate earns $54,704, significantly more than the $30,056 earned annually by someone with a high school diploma, or the $22,100 earned by a high school dropout. Another way of looking at these numbers is that, according to the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter (PEORL), the lifetime income of families headed by individuals with a bachelor's degree will be about $1.6 million more than the incomes of families headed by those with a high school diploma. The PEORL goes on to state that every dollar spent on a college education produces $34.85 in increased lifetime income--not a bad return on an investment.

Higher education improves an individual's quality of life. Studies show that, compared to high school graduates, college graduates have longer life spans, better access to health care, better dietary and health practices, greater economic stability and security, more prestigious employment and greater job satisfaction, less dependency on government assistance, greater knowledge of government, greater community service and leadership, more volunteer work, more self-confidence, and less criminal activity and incarceration. In addition, college graduates supposedly have greater use of seatbelts, more continuing education, greater Internet access, greater attendance at live performances, greater participation in leisure and artistic activities, more book purchases, and higher voting rates. As an aside, I have to admit that I was amazed at some of these items--not that I found them, but that someone actually researched this stuff and thought some of the items were enviable.