When it comes to postsecondary education, students often want to know the return on investment. And there’s no shortage of economic data that can boil this down to dollars and cents.
In 2017, for example, Statistics Canada reported that men with an apprenticeship certificate in the skilled trades had median earnings of $72,955 in 2015. That was 31 percent higher than the average earnings of a high-school graduate but 11 percent less than those of men with a bachelor’s degree.
For women, there was a big payoff in obtaining a bachelor’s degree, according to the same report. Those who did earned a median of $68,342, 40 percent more than those with a college diploma and 60 percent more than those with a high-school diploma.
“Completing an apprenticeship did not result in higher earnings for women as it did for men,” Statistics Canada reported. “In fact, women with an apprenticeship certificate earned 12% less than women with high school as their highest educational qualification.”
Among B.C. residents between 15 and 64, those with a bachelor’s degree had a median income of $62,985 in 2015, compared to $48,353 for those with a college diploma, $43,327 for those with an apprenticeship certificate, and $45,563 for those with a high-school diploma.
But postsecondary education is about more than the salary one receives after graduating. It can forge lifelong friendships, produce more informed citizens, and even offer an opportunity to meet a spouse.
From a labour-market perspective, degrees increase income over the course of a person’s life, according to the Conference Board of Canada, as well as providing societal benefits.
“The total return (net present value), both private and public, for a Canadian man who completes tertiary education is $220,365 ($153,520 in benefits to the individual and $66,845 to society),” the Conference Board of Canada states on its website. “And for a Canadian woman, the total return is $158,036 ($111,487 to the individual and $46,539 to society).
“These significant positive returns—both for individuals and the country—demonstrate the value that Canadians and the Canadian economy place on educational achievement.”
In 2011, UBC economist W. Craig Riddell and York University economist Xueda Song published a paper in a journal called Labour Economics looking at the relationship between education levels and bouncing back from being unemployed.
They examined data for Americans 12 months after losing a job and for Canadians six months after becoming unemployed. It marked the first time that a “causal effect”, rather than a mere correlation, could be demonstrated between education level and the amount of time that someone was out of work.
“Results indicate that education significantly increases reemployment rates of the unemployed,” Riddell and Song wrote in a discussion paper for the Institute for the Study of Labor. “Particularly large impacts are found in the neighbourhoods of 12 and 16 years of schooling.”
It’s not all about the money, of course. It’s imperative that prospective students search out programs that are a good fit for their personality and that will help them reach their potential as human beings.
But it’s also worth noting the message from the research cited above: investing in education can pay handsome dividends.