Benson spent the last few minutes of his speech talking about why attaining education “makes a difference.”
Many studies reveal that “the one thing that has the ability to change one’s position in life is access to education ... There’s not another panacea out there to address the world’s ills like education can.”
Benson presented data he used while president of Southern Utah University, prior to being named president of EKU.
Looking at the median wage of those with a certain level of education, he said, “there’s a direct correlation” between degree attainment and unemployment rates.
In Utah, for those with a high school diploma, unemployment was 8.5 percent, but for those with a graduate degree, unemployment was 1.4 percent, he said. “I think we can extrapolate an important lesson from that and apply it to the commonwealth as well.”
Benson pointed out a “startling disparity” in earning potential between those with a high school diploma versus an advanced degree.
In 2004, the average salary of someone with a high school diploma was $21,000, but with an advanced degree, the average earning potential was $78,000, he said.
Those who have a higher level of education tend to vote more, volunteer more, be active in public service and “they also have a direct correlation to increased health and well-being,” Benson continued.
There, of course, is a place in society for those who do not pursue a formal education, he said, such as his mother. She did not graduate college, but was a piano teacher who gave “all six kids opportunities that she never had.”
Among Benson and his five siblings, they have earned five bachelor’s degrees, three master’s, a doctorate and a Pulitzer Prize, he said.
“That’s only because of my mom and dad and their commitment to education,” he said.