TAFKAS won’t classify every dollar spent on education as investment. Particularly and especially university education.
Without doubt, for many, a university education is a pathway to a better standard of living. But should every Australian child be nudged into university? And should university credentials be required for many of the roles they are currently required of? For child care workers? For nurses? For baristas?
The marginal student going to university because it is the thing to do is left with a poor education and a financial albatross around their necks for much of their life.
The economics of university education are supposed to be that you sacrifice 3-4 years of working life and a large amount of capital (repaid with interest through the tax system) in exchange for a higher than otherwise income for the rest of your life. But what if that higher income does not eventuate? What if there are other pathways to a higher income without the upfront capital?
Consider the following numbers in the United States:
- The median income of an American farmer is $43,945, which is higher than the median income of Americans with bachelor’s degrees in early-childhood education ($39,000), human services and community organization ($41,000), and elementary education ($43,000).
- The median income of an American mechanic is $46,919, which is higher than the median income of Americans with bachelor’s degrees in drama ($45,000) and art and music ($46,000).
- The median income of an American plumber is $52,404, which is higher than the median income of Americans with bachelor’s degrees in art history ($49,000), humanities ($49,000), anthropology ($49,000), sociology ($51,000), ethnic and civilization studies ($51,000), art and graphic design ($51,000), botany ($52,000), and modern languages ($52,000).
- The median income of an American electrician is $54,327, which is higher than the median income of Americans with bachelor’s degrees in English literature ($53,000), advertising and public relations ($54,000), history ($54,000), and communications ($54,000).
- The median income of an American home builder is $59,275, which is higher than the median income of Americans with bachelor’s degrees in journalism ($56,000) and geography ($58,000).
- In 2015, truckers who worked for private fleets made a median income of $73,000 — a little more than the median income for Americans with master’s degrees.
Granted these are American numbers, but are they fundamentally different in Australia? Particularly when many of the recent reforms to University funding (eg demand driven enrollments) have driven up the costs of university education without driving up the value of university education.
One might say god help those with advanced degrees in Marxist Lesbian Dance Theory, but there will probably always be roles for such graduates in the public service.