As chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, it is my privilege to speak each spring at state college and university commencements, one of our most meaningful academic ceremonies. Each time, I get a clear sense of the hard work and sacrifices that made this achievement possible and am reminded of the tremendous value that a college degree has for individual graduates and for Oklahoma as a whole.
I realize there is debate about whether earning a degree is simply a private gain for the individual or represents a broader public good by providing our state with a better-educated work force. We believe it is both.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals with a bachelor's degree earn $1.1 million more than high school graduates during their professional careers. This fact is not lost on the general public. A recent survey shows that 87 percent of Americans believe a college degree is now as important as a high school diploma was in the past. A persuasive case can be made that a college degree is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
As more Oklahomans achieve the dream of a college degree, our society benefits in ways documented by multiple sources, including Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. Their data show that a college degree is associated with more civic participation and lower crime and incarceration rates. Overall health is better, and savings and charitable giving rates are higher as the number of college degrees increases.
It has never been clearer that higher education is key to our state's economic recovery and future growth. In Oklahoma, higher education has an outstanding track record of linking academic programs directly to the needs of business, especially in the areas of wind turbine technology, engineering and aerospace.