A recent article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education on a small rural town in the Missouri Bootheel brought attention to its declining, sick population. The article suggested that residents suffer from poor health because they don’t have college degrees and aren’t afforded the same opportunities as those who do. In short, the article wrote that the number of people, specifically in rural areas, who lack a college degree is a public health crisis — one that results in children dying from preventable diseases like asthma and the elderly dealing with chronic illnesses that result in earlier deaths.
Access to education is a right that should be granted to anyone who seeks to gain knowledge and find higher paying employment opportunities. There are an abundance of colleges and universities in the United States, many of them built with the purpose of educating our youth and equipping them with the necessary skills for their desired careers. But framing the lack of college degrees as a public health issue may not be the best way to garner support for people who are from from lower socioeconomic or less privileged backgrounds and pursuing higher education.
Many important issues have been labeled public health crises, and the frequency at which this term is used takes away from its meaning. Redundancy of the phrase, in fact, devalues the crisis for what it really stands for — something that threatens the health of people on a large scale. Surely, populations experiencing higher mortality rates at younger ages is not directly caused by a lack of college degrees. This is more likely a correlation than a causation, as many young people who attend college come from wealthier backgrounds have easier and better access to health resources and are taught at a young age to be cautious of their eating and exercise habits. This is not a result of their college education, but rather the way they were raised. Calling this a public health issue is misleading and an inaccurate categorization.
Labeling the discrepancy as a public health crisis is rather insensitive to those who don’t attend college. Many young people opt not to attend a traditional four-year university and enroll in a junior college or trade school, while others do not have the financial means to pay for the expenses of college and enter the workforce immediately after high school. It would be unfair and even insulting to suggest that they needed college degrees to live lengthier lives and be healthy. There are ways to sustain a healthy lifestyle without a college education. On the flip side, getting a degree does not always guarantee a well paying job with health care benefits. Plenty of college educated people also suffer from illnesses.
In an age where college degrees are even more important to attaining high-paying and promising careers than ever, those who want a college degree should be able to get one. Thus, an intersectional approach to the problem could yield more people from rural towns to attend college. Instead of making this is a public health issue, perhaps, not earning a college degree has more economic consequences than health ramifications in the long run. Getting a college degree probably has more of an effect on how much money you make and how you decide to spend that money. This results in people getting out of the cycle of rural poverty and ensuring the generations after you are equipped with better opportunities.