GUEST COMMENTARY: Higher education linked to longer, healthier lives

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Since becoming University of Missouri System President, I have been traveling the state far and wide touting the advantages of higher education, offering examples such as a more informed citizenry, higher income and more engagement in society.

Let me give you one more: an overall healthier, longer life.

As an avid runner myself, I was struck by a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control that linked higher education to a longer life. As reported in USA Today, people with a bachelor’s degree or higher live about nine years longer than those who don’t graduate from high school. This is a trend that has continued throughout the past several decades, experts say, and it manifests itself in the more than three times higher smoking rates among those without a college degree and the more than double obesity rates in children of parents without a college degree. Those without a college degree also have higher cholesterol levels and more prevalence of diabetes.

To me, all of this boils down to the No. 1 advantage of higher education: improved quality of life.

Whether it is because those with a higher education are more aware of healthier choices, more predominantly choose healthier behaviors, or they have better access to health care, it is definitely clear that education makes a positive impact on our personal health and wellness, which, of course, ultimately affects our health care costs as a society and helps keep Missouri an affordable place to live.

I wish I could say that Missourians were bucking these statistics, but unfortunately that’s not the case. In fact, we Missourians have higher-than-average rates of chronic diseases like the ones mentioned above, which makes me wonder even more: Are these statistics related to the fact that Missouri as a state hasn’t placed great value on higher education as evidenced by near-bottom per capita funding?

As the product of higher education myself — the president of the premiere public, research land-grant university in the state — and the father of two soon-to-be college-bound students, I can’t stress enough how valuable education is. And I am extremely concerned that there are those in our state who just don’t get it.

So, I’ll continue to travel the state touting the advantages of higher education. And we’ll continue to encourage people to visit our website to learn more about who we are, what we do and the difference we make.

But lest anyone doubt (or not hear) my message, let me be clear: Higher education is a game-changer. It transforms society. It advances our state. It pays dividends to individuals. And it is related to longer, healthier lives. Who needs more reasons than that?

Tim Wolfe is the president of the UM System. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Bob Hill May 30, 2012 | 12:36 p.m.

Here's what I get. The President of our flagship higher-education system uses relationships built on correlation as if they are fact to scare us into giving more of our money to his government institution. Granted, he does use words like "related", but it's buried in the context of causation without more explicit warnings. I think we deserve a more honest assessment, but from what I've seen about MU graduates, this faulty analysis would pass muster from the majority of their graduates.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 30, 2012 | 1:38 p.m.

Just a reminder. Had Mrs. Forsee not been diagnosed with cancer it's highly probable Mr. Wolfe would be doing something else at present.

I am merely pointing out that an unfortunate situation occurred, not making an assessment of either Mr. Wolfe or former President Forsee.

(Report Comment)

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