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New study reveals that inclusive education policies can make residents happier

Access to higher education can also play a positive role

Photo (c) demaerre - Getty Images
Applying to college can be a demanding, rigorous process, and it can also exclude many potential applicants because of cost, poor grades, or other policies.

Now, researchers have found that countries that adopt more inclusive education policies that help more students of the working-class attend college have happier citizens.

“Schools have the potential to have a huge impact on children and youth and on their life chances, but a narrow focus on academic outcomes such as test results provides an incomplete picture of the consequences of education policies,” said researcher Björn Högberg.

Gauging happiness

The researchers delved deeper into this topic after seeing a disparity between the happiness of middle-class kids into adulthood and kids from lower classes into adulthood.

They examined nearly 15,000 responses from the European Social Survey, with participants ranging in age from 18-29 years old and representing over 20 different countries. The survey focused on participants’ overall happiness and satisfaction in life.

The next step of the experiment was looking at education policies in the different countries. The researchers focused on four major initiatives:

  • Offering students multiple chances to get into college if they had poor grades in high school;

  • Reducing the cost of college;

  • Increasing the number of accepted applicants at colleges; and

  • Monitoring children’s school performance from a young age.

Overall, the researchers found that participants from a higher social class were happier and more satisfied with their lives than those from lower social classes. The biggest gaps in happiness between the classes were found in Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and the U.K.

Conversely, residents in Denmark were the happiest, and they also had the most inclusive educational policies. This was true of many of the countries: more inclusive policies led to happier citizens.

Unlike many of the other countries represented in the survey, students in Denmark were given several chances to attend college, and private education didn’t come with a hefty price tag.

“Among the wealthier western European countries, those with more inclusive education systems, such as Denmark, had smaller social differences (in fact none at all, on average) than equally wealthy but less inclusive countries, such as the U.K. or Germany,” Högberg said.

The researchers hope that these findings inspire more countries to prioritize students when determining education policies, as the effects go far beyond what many may expect.

“I would recommend that education policy, especially at higher levels, are designed such that the opportunity to access education, should one want to, is maximized, either through institutional measures, such as widening access for poorer students, or through financial measures -- such as lower student fees,” said Högberg.

Education is key

While this study focused primarily on European countries, the U.S. could take a cue from some of these policies, particularly after the Trump administration announced plans to get rid of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).

Student loans are stressful for everyone, and recent studies have found that financial education is key in helping reduce that stress. Researchers have found that many borrowers are unsure of how interest adds up, which loans are eligible for forgiveness, or how their loans work in general.

“A majority of borrowers, 55 percent, reported being worried about their student loans; however, only 30 percent of borrowers said that they had received financial education about paying off their student loans,” said researcher Lu Fan. “Moreover, only 40 percent of borrowers reported having financial influence from their parents. Given the number of people who need student loans to attend college, we need to do better at educating borrowers.”

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