I heard an interesting podcast as i was shovelling snow this morning on the relationship between post-secondary education and income potential. The authors, a couple of economists, are convinced that the way to reignite the American economy is by driving even higher rates of post-secondary education.
There is obviously a strong link between post-secondary education and income level throughout the course of a career – I don’t dispute that at all.
But I am not sure that widespread post-secondary education is the panacea that some economists make it out to be.
Their logic smacks of a Richard Floridian naivete. In a report on Toronto, Florida talked about the need to focus on the service sector – food court workers, janitors, etc. as part of the creative class and that adopting his thinking would lead to innovation and higher incomes (I’m paraphrasing).
Ultimately, this is quite silly. While I don’t doubt there is some benefit to creative class thinking in food courts (maybe out of work singers crooning as I eat my smoked meat sandwich?) – some industries, some jobs are just relatively routine and mundane tasks – they are absolutely necessary to the economy but adding a university degree to a janitor job is not going to transform that job into a $80,000/year job.
The reason why post-secondary education is correlated to higher incomes is that many of the new jobs (and some of the older jobs) require a higher level of education.
But there are a whole slew of jobs that will never require a university degree.
I’m a believer in post-secondary education. I think there is merit in just about everyone getting a university degree from carpenters to research scientists but I think we have to be realistic – if we are promising young people guaranteed higher incomes we had better have the jobs base to back that up.
I think we need to rethink university education anyway. In 2011, a university education is similar to a high school education in the 1940s. We should encourage young people to get a university or college education as part of their life goals. We need to back off this idea that everyone getting a university degree will make a lot more than everyone else in the future.
I am not sure that will be the case.