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Forget forestry, or minerals: Stay in school, it pays off

If you've gone back to school this week, congratulations, you're doing yourself and the Canadian economy a big favour. No matter how you slice it, education pays and higher education pays better.

If you've gone back to school this week, congratulations, you're doing yourself and the Canadian economy a big favour.

No matter how you slice it, education pays and higher education pays better. To begin, I'm indebted to Vancouver Sun columnist Harvey Enchin. Enchin's beat is economics and he's compiled a list of studies showing the return income value of staying in school.

Citing a recent C.D. Howe Institute study, Enchin says the money invested in a bachelor's degree returns 13 per cent for men and 17 per cent for women. For those attending a community college the return is 11 per cent for both men and women.

Another Canadian study by investigators Joseph Berger and Andrew Parkin found that the holder of a bachelor's degree earned $18,000 more a year than a high school graduate. Berger and Parkin also looked at family incomes over the years 1984 to 2005 and showed the median wealth of a family headed by a university graduate rose twice as much as a family headed by someone without a degree.

Going to school as long as you can not only increases your personal wealth but that of the country as well. Obviously, the purchase of expensive goods contributes significantly more in taxes to both the national and provincial treasuries. To Porsche owners everywhere, thank you.

But there's more, those with higher education build the economy. They are the engineers, the scientists, the researchers, the innovators who have made British Columbia, Canada, and indeed the world, a better place to live.

They are Banting, Best and Bethune, just to name a few. Closer to home, look at the career of current UNBC chancellor John MacDonald OC. MacDonald, originally from Prince Rupert, went to UBC then to MIT where he earned a PhD in electrical engineering.

MacDonald and partner Vern Dettwiller formed MacDonald Dettwiler Associates in 1969. Located in Richmond, MacDonald Dettwiler became international leaders in space robotics and control systems. Currently, the company has 3,000 employees in Canada, the U.S. and the United Kingdom. For John MacDonald, and for sure the British Columbian economy, higher education has paid off.

Looking further afield at the impact of a poorly-educated workforce, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9.6 per cent. In Canada, it's 8.0 per cent. Some economists say the American rate will increase to 10 per cent. More disturbing, there is little sign of the U.S. unemployment rate lessening in the near, or long-term future. The American problem is in a large part caused by its skills deficit and its loss of manufacturing jobs; jobs that will not return.

A snapshot of the U.S. skills and employment opportunity scene is both disturbing and instructional. In the 10 years leading up to the 2007 economic bubble, around four million semi-skilled jobs were lost in the U.S. manufacturing sector. Employment in that sector fell from 17 per cent of the U.S. total to 12 per cent. Did anyone notice? No. Semi-skilled construction jobs took up the slack. Then the U.S. housing market tanked compliments of the predatory American banking and mortgage industry.

Now the U.S. has a problem; it has millions of semi-skilled workers out of a job with little hope of finding employment. U.S. manufacturing capacity and the brains that drove manufacturing have been outsourced to other countries. The U.S. has a skills deficit with little chance of recovery.

The U.S. also has a higher high school dropout rate than Canada. No doubt caused by the previous ease of entering those now-lost low-skilled manufacturing jobs. Indeed, a study by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development shows Canada has the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates aged 25-to-64 in the OECD member group of countries.

The correlation between education, employment and economic benefit is direct - personally, provincially and nationally.

So how are we doing in B.C? Looking at our province, one could say the Liberal government is treating post-secondary education fairly, not great, but not bad either.

Last year, the advanced education budget was $2 billion. This year it's up to $2.2 billion. With a slowed economy, an argument can be made for more advanced education spending, as higher unemployment drives up post-secondary enrolment. To its credit, the Campbell government has recognized the need to focus on diversified post-secondary programs.

To end where we began, there is no question the time and money invested in education provides a handsome return to all. Forget forestry and minerals, they're expendable and cyclical. So stay in school.

At the end the day, a well-educated population is a country's only truly sustainable resource.