Well. a good number of the results are in, and the leader is -- to no one's surprise -- "because it's the right thing for me to do."
When asked why they work in higher ed, folks have phrased it a variety of ways ("because I want to make a difference", "because I believe in education", "because it'e the most meaningful job I could have"), but the overall meaning is pretty consistent. People who work for colleges and universities see those institutions as doing good in the world; they see working in higher ed as more than just a job.
This is true for many who teach (indeed, for all who teach well), but also for a good number of those who don't. As some responses have indicated, it applies to a number of folks who not only don't teach, they have little or no official contact with students.
Now I wouldn't expect anyone who works at a college or university to be opposed to the idea of education, but it strikes me that a lot of what underlies these answers is an unusually high value placed on schooling by many employees. Some sort of halo effect -- some sort of virtue by association -- seems to be in play here.
Which is not to say that we shouldn't feel good about where we work -- hopefully, quite the opposite. It's just to say that the warm glow of reflected virtue might hide some other reasons that colleges and universities (despite wages that rarely rise to exemplary levels) are still employers of choice in many American communities.
Some of those other reasons peek carefully out from a few of the responses I've received. Only one real pattern has emerged so far, but . . .
Why do you work in higher education (aside from associating yourself with virtue)? Send your (brief) story to me at g[dot]rendell[at]insidehighered[dot]com.