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Getting an education is the only way you are going to have financial stability,” says Laurie Campbell, executive director of the financial literacy non-profit Credit Canada. “Education is an essential factor if you want even a fighting chance in today’s job market.”
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In a report released last year, former Seneca president Rick Miner estimated that a decade from now, up to 700,000 people in Ontario will be unemployable because of a lack of education and training. “With the emergence of our knowledge economy, the proportion of the labour force requiring some form of education or training beyond high school will increase dramatically,” Miner writes.
This prospective scenario – a shortage of skilled labour and a glut of undereducated unemployed – is a motivating factor behind Premier Dalton McGuinty’s pledge to discount tuition for middle- and low-income families and establish three new undergraduate campuses. The goal: to get 70 per cent of the workforce to attain some level of post-secondary education. Higher education is not only necessary to get a foot in the door of this shifting labour market, but is also beneficial for long-term employability and earning potential. “Most people are going to change jobs five to seven times,” says Keturah Leonforde, a career counsellor at Wilfrid Laurier University and a motivational author. “So when we’re looking at life-long value, a university degree will keep paying back in longevity of employability.” Earning potential was top-of-mind when Burke decided to aim high and improve her high school grades.
An avid equestrian and animal lover, she long desired a career in veterinarian sciences. Burke’s hopes are pinned on receiving an acceptance letter from the University of Guelph, where she plans to earn a Bachelor of Science before applying for a four-year program at the Ontario Veterinary College. “I want to be able to provide my future family with opportunities,” Burke explains. “ Her instincts are correct. Although high school graduates only enjoy a slight income advantage over those without a high school diploma ($4,300 more annually on average), university graduates earn nearly double what high school graduates do ($23,000 more), according to Statistics Canada. These numbers show that, for most people, university offers the most promising long-term financial benefit. But that doesn’t mean that university is necessarily the right choice for everyone. A 2004 report commissioned by the Ontario Coalition for Postsecondary Education found that while 25 per cent of university grads made significantly more than their high school and college peers, another 25 per cent of university grads actually earned less than the average high school graduate.
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A study of workers two years after graduation shows that those low-earning or underemployed university grads may have been better prepared for the workforce having taken a skills-focused college program. And if new university graduates find themselves in a lower-paying job than expected, they can reassure themselves with the knowledge that the financial benefits of their education become more significant later in their career; university grads see their salaries double on average between the ages of 25 and 54. College and high school educated workers can expect their salaries to grow by 50 per cent over the same period, but because college grads earn significantly more on average, that growth represents more financial benefit to college grads.