HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

April 17

The Changing Face of Student Protest

You may have missed this story, what with disappearing airliners, annexations in Crimea, and whatnot, but there has been a major and quite unique student uprising going on in Taipei over the past month.

The “Sunflower Student Movement” was born in mid-March when the Kuomintang government decided to try to ram a new trade treaty with China through the legislature, without permitting a clause-by-clause review or substantive public hearings.  Since the KMT are known to favour (eventual) reunification with China, many in the opposition saw the reluctance to face any oversight as evidence of a potential sell-out.  The result was a student-led occupation of Parliament for a little over three weeks, which eventually ended in a partial climbdown by the KMT.

Historically, this kind of student protest is pretty common.  When you look at the phenomenon of student protests in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, what you mostly see are political movements.  In South Korea, the dictatorship of Syngman Rhee was overthrown by students (the next military dictator prudently relocated Seoul National University across the river from the centre of government); in conjunction with the military, students did similar things in Bolivia, South Vietnam, Sudan, and Ghana.  Even in the developed world, student movements of the 60s had broad political aims – protesting the war in America, for social revolution in France, and for the “nationalist” cause in Quebec.

However, something very strange has happened to student politics over the past thirty years.  During this time, as higher education massified, student movements and organizations became less political.  Today, these movements have become much more concerned with “student” issues, such as student welfare, tuition fees, etc  (in the literature, these are known as “etudialist” issues).

Back in the 60s, when big names in Political Science like Seymour Martin Lipset thought it worth their time to edit books on student politics, this would have seemed unlikely.  The expansion of educational opportunity to poorer students was widely seen as being likely to further radicalize the student body. Yet, in fact, what massification seems mostly to have done is to make the student body more like the world at large: big, diverse, and anything but homogeneous in political thought.  And while that makes them less likely to be vanguards for social or political revolutions, it doesn’t preclude them from uniting to fight defensive battles when they feel their interests are threatened (for example, on tuition fees).

Thus, most of the really large student protest movements in the past three years – Chile, South Korea, and Quebec – have all fundamentally been about fees.  Conversely, while there have been some enormous social and political protests in places like Cairo, Kiev, and Athens, students have rarely played the leading roles that their counterparts did 40-50 years ago.  Only in Taiwan and – to a lesser extent – Venezuela, where student groups have been at the forefront of protests against the chavista government of Nicolas Maduro, have we seen students in the kinds of political confrontations that were the norm only half a century ago.

April 16

Rewind on Those Foley/Green Numbers

So, you may remember that last week I published this neat little graph from the National Graduates Survey, showing university and graduate incomes across all ten provinces, three years after graduation.  Note that although the numbers vary by province, the university number is always higher than the college number.

Median Earnings of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Three Years After Graduation, in 2013

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The super-keen among you may also remember something I wrote three weeks ago, about a paper by Kelly Foley and David Green, which I summarized thusly:

“In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.”

How can both be true ?  Basically, it’s because they’re using slightly different definitions of university and college.

Here’s the issue: Foley and Green used the Labour Force Survey data.  That’s quite a different source of data from NGS.  For instance, it includes graduates of foreign universities, who tend to make less than those educated locally. There’s not many of these in the 25-29 category, but it does reduce the university number a bit.

But the major reason is this: Foley and Green included “trades certificates and apprenticeships” in their definition of college.  At one level that’s fair enough, because most (though not all) of the technical training that occurs in apprenticeships occurs in colleges.  But on the other hand, it does obscure some important differences between the two.

Start with income.  Ten years ago, males 25-29 holding trade certificates and college diplomas made almost the same amount; now, there’s an enormous gap.

Median Weekly Wages, Males Aged 25-29

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Now, look at the distribution by region of Foley/Green’s “college” population.  In Ontario, less than 20% of this population holds a trade or apprenticeship credential; in Alberta it’s over 35%.

Distribution of College/Trade Credentials Among Males 25-29, Ontario and Alberta (Source: National Household Survey)

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So, to summarize: Within the Foley/Green description of college graduates there are two distinct groups, one of whom makes more than the other.  And the better-off group is more prevalent in the west than it is in Central Canada.  So it’s not that young Western Canadian male college diploma holders are better off than young Western Canadian male university bachelor’s graduates, it’s that young Western Canadian males who received training in colleges are better off than young Western Canadian male university bachelor’s graduates.

I hope that’s clear.

This college/trade advantage disappears relatively quickly after age 30, but I’ll get to that another time.

April 15

Happy Birthday, Canada Student Loans Program (Part the Last)

For the first thirty or so years of its existence, the CSLP changed little, and was rarely the subject of any political attention.  The annual loan maxima drifted gradually upwards from its initial $1,000 per year, but the only real innovations were the introduction of interest relief (the nucleus of today’s Repayment Assistance Program) in 1984, and a short-lived, ill-advised experiment in administrative cost-recovery in 1990 – during which the government levied a 3% fee on loans to pay for overhead, but which was withdrawn in the run-up to the 1993 federal election.

This stasis didn’t indicate widespread love for the program.  The Rowat-Hurtubise Report on “University, Society and Government” in 1970 recommended that the program be turned over to allow provinces to make their own, more coherent programs.  And in the mid-90s, after the Quebec referendum and Lloyd Axworthy’s 1994 Green Paper on student assistance – when the federal government became convinced student aid was a loser file that would never give them any credit – HRDC made discreet inquiries of the provinces about the possibility of withdrawing from the field.

What changed everything was the seemingly minor policy tweak of increasing the federal lending limit in 1994.  To reduce costs, the feds ended the long-standing formula where CSLP was responsible for 100% of need, up to $105 per week, and the provinces could decide to do whatever they wanted on top of that.  In its stead, the feds introduced a policy of covering 60% of every dollar of need, up to $165/week.  The corollary here was that provinces suddenly had to cover need from the very first dollar.  Coming at a time when government budgets were under huge pressure, the result was that most provinces radically reduced their grant programs, and replaced them with loans.  Cue a rapid rise in student debt, and subsequently (as I described back here) the arrival of a broad-based coalition to improve student aid.

The next few years saw almost annual changes in student aid.  CSLP first started issuing grants in 1994, but these were expanded in 1997 to include grants for students with dependents, and then again in 2005 when low-income grants were introduced.  Interest relief was made much more generous in 1998, and then expanded into the current RAP in 2005.  Tax credits were increased in 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2006.  Education savings grants were introduced in 1998, and then expanded again in 2004.

And, of course, there was the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.  The feds’ decision to create a whole new delivery vehicle for student aid was primarily motivated by the fact that: a) it was an accounting ruse to get rid of a one-year surplus over many years; and, b) it could do an end-run around CSLP’s opt-out clause, so that it could spend federal dollars in Quebec (if there was ever a politician who believed in the power of l’flag sur l’cheque, it was Chretien).  But it was also motivated by a view (in the Finance department and PMO ) that CSLP wasn’t up to much, policy-wise.  Ten years later, when the Foundation’s mandate was up for renewal, the PMO and Finance felt otherwise: the Foundation wasn’t renewed, and CSLP was suddenly managing a $600 million grant portfolio, in addition to its $1.5 billion in loans.

Since its inception, CSLP has lent $44 billion (in real dollars, it’s probably $100 billion or more), to roughly 5 million Canadians.  Few government programs have had as big an effect on the country’s economy, and few, if any, joint federal-provincial programs are run as smoothly.  It’s a Canadian success story – which of course means nobody recognizes it as such.  Even the government itself has chosen not to commemorate this 50th anniversary.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t raise a toast.  L’Chayim, CSLP.  And here’s to the next 50.

April 14

The Birth of the Canada Student Loans Program (III): The Deal

Pearson’s election manifestoes of 1958, 1962, and 1963 (mostly written by Englishman and former Winnipeg Free Press editor, Tom Kent) all contained proposals for both a loan scheme and a system of scholarships.  But upon coming to power in the last of those three elections, loans weren’t the new government’s first priority.  In fact, Pearson’s team quickly became bogged down in a completely different policy arena: namely, pensions.  The Liberals had promised a national contributory pension system, but were having an enormous problem getting buy-in, since both Ontario and Quebec had their own ideas about how a pension system should be run (for a real blow-by-blow of this, read P.E. Bryden’s, Planners and Politicians).

On March 31st, at a federal-provincial conference (remember those?  They used to be quite common) on the pension issue, Premier Lesage provided an outline for what would become the QPP.  It was widely judged to be a more advantageous plan than the one the feds were putting forward, and there was the prospect of the federal plan collapsing if some kind of arrangement could not be made (it seems ridiculous now, but at the time, the impasse over pensions was seen as being a threat to confederation itself – Peter C. Newman’s, The Distemper of Our Times does a good job of capturing this).

Over the course of the next two weekends, Kent and his Quebec counterpart held secret talks (so secret, in fact, that Pearson kept their existence hidden from the nominally-responsible minister, Judy La Marsh) to try to hammer out a deal.  As the talks wore on, it became clear that this discussion needed to be about more than just pensions: what Quebec was really after was a more general freedom to craft its own social programs.  What emerged on the 16th of April – 50 years ago this Wednesday – was a deal that cemented not only the CPP/QPP arrangement we have today, but also cemented the practice of “opting-out with compensation” from federal social programs.  The first program to which this applied?  The Canada Student Loans Program, which promptly started operation (oddly enough, under the auspices of the Minister of Finance) on August 1st of that year.

The CSLP was supposed to be complemented by a national scholarship system, but the plan never quite came to pass.  Kent’s idea was a radical one: he wanted to get rid of the institutional grants, and move all the money into the scholarship fund; institutions would be able to raise their fees, and students would be able to access a massive need-based aid fund.  The universities, predictably, thought this was a terrible idea.  Much as was the case in the US when Pell grants were introduced, institutions far preferred money in their hands rather than in students’.  But unlike the US, where grants were introduced by a Johnson administration at the height of its powers, by 1965 the Pearson minority government was an exhausted mess.  Eventually, this promise morphed into a commitment to provide greater support to funding institutions so they could expand.  It would not be until the 1990s that the Government of Canada would eventually fulfill the promise of non-repayable aid.

More tomorrow.

April 11

Happy 50th, CSLP (II): The Road not Taken

The Progressive Conservative Party under John Diefenbaker won a crushing majority in 1958, and his platform hadn’t contained anything with respect to education or universities.  Though he was known for his “Vision for Canada”, universities weren’t really a part of that vision.  He retained the Saint Laurent policy of paying money directly (via the AUCC) to individual universities on a more-or-less per capita basis.  The only change he made was to agree to a deal with the Duplessis government (which had forced its institutions to refuse the federal money) to use Quebec’s allotment to increase the provincial corporate tax abatement instead.  But student aid simply wasn’t on his radar.

But of course, not all Tories had the same view.  The younger ones in particular felt that they had to have some kind of policy to counter the “national scholarship” proposal the Liberals had swiped from the National Federation of Canadian University Students.  Ted Rogers (yes, that one) was the PC Youth Chair in the late 1950s, having played a major role in getting Diefenbaker elected in the first place.  And it was he who came up with a Tory policy on higher education: namely, tax deductions for tuition, usable either by the student or his/her parents.

This wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue suggestion.  During passage of the National Defense Education Act in the US in 1958, Eisenhower had suggested using tax credits instead of loans on the grounds that it would provide greater benefits to the middle class, and required less government intervention (I should note that there’s no evidence this is where Rogers got the idea, but it’s a plausible scenario).

In any case, Rogers sold the Chief on the idea.  But, mindful of the views of his Quebec caucus and the deal he had struck with Duplessis on grants to universities, Diefenbaker wanted to make sure the new Lesage government would be onside with the proposal.  And so, he sent the one man he trusted in Quebec City to negotiate the deal with Lesage: a gregarious PC Youth Vice-President who was finishing his legal studies at Laval.  A young fellow by the name of Brian Mulroney.  By December 1960, the deal was done, and the tax deductions became law in 1961.

(The tax deductions stayed almost unaltered in form or value for 30 years, despite the 1971 Carter Commission having made the point that such deductions were regressive because they were worth more to high-income individuals than lower-income ones.  It wasn’t until the 1991 budget that Michael Wilson turned this – and a number of other deductions – into tax credits, which are fairer because they are worth an equal amount regardless of family income.)

This was a partisan move by the Tories – and an attempt to head-off Liberal demands for scholarships.  Since then, of course, tax measures have been adopted by both parties (Paul Martin was a noted enthusiast), such that the government of Canada now spends significantly more on education tax credits than on need-based student aid.  But in the shorter-run it was a failure: student groups weren’t impressed, and within two years, the Liberals were back in power, with plans to implement precisely the aid program the Tories had tried to forestall.

More tomorrow.

April 10

Happy 50th Birthday, Canada Student Loans Program

The Canada Student Loans Program, which over the years has helped upwards of 3 million Canadians obtain a post-secondary education, turns 50 this year.  And since the Government of Canada seems to be either too shy or too partisan (it was a Liberal creation after all) to celebrate this anniversary, I thought I’d do it here, by spending a few days giving you a bit of history about how the program came about.

(Why now?  Why not August 1st, the actual anniversary of the start of the program?  Patience grasshoppers.  There is a relevant anniversary coming up, but I don’t want to ruin the story).

The federal government was providing student assistance as early as 1919, when they offered loans of up to $500 to WWI veterans who were returning to complete their studies (the offer was only for those who had been enrolled prior to enlisting… everyone else was out of luck).  After that, the Government of Canada stayed out of the field until the late 1930s.  In 1937, they started a matching grant program with the provinces to develop facilities for vocational training; in 1939, they expanded that to a cost-sharing program for student aid, called the Dominion-Provincial Student Assistance Program (DPSAP).  PEI and the Western provinces joined in 1940 – everyone else was in by 1944 (Newfoundland joined the program shortly after entering confederation, Quebec withdrew for all the usual reasons in 1954).  Additional loan and scholarship programs  to support Science and Engineering students for the war effort began in 1941, but ended when the war did, in 1945.

DPSAP wasn’t in any sense a federal program – basically, the feds would match whatever the provinces were doing, subject to some fairly minor conditions.  Certainly, there were no national rules; basically, each province did their own thing and got some federal money to go along with it.  One or two provinces had loans, most provinces had “scholarships” (at the time English was like French, and didn’t have words to distinguish between need-and merit-based awards).  But they didn’t spend much – this matching program only cost the feds $5 million over 25 years, and rarely provided aid to more than about 4000 students in any given year.

After the war, both the Massey (1951) and Gordon (1957) commissions made it clear that they thought greater federal assistance to higher education was needed.  In short order, this led to St. Laurent’s efforts to give grants directly to Canadian universities (a move correctly and mercilessly ridiculed by Pierre Trudeau in his 1957 essay, Federal Grants to Universities); student aid wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but the main student group of the time, the National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS) began pushing for a “national system of scholarships”.  In the United States, the examples of the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act (1958) provided reformers in Canada with lots of ideas about how student aid might be run.  But by then, Canada was led by John Diefenbaker’s Tories, who had precious little interest in education as a policy field.  Nevertheless, what they ended up doing in higher education would have a huge long-run impact on higher education finance.

More tomorrow.

April 09

A *Tiny* Statscan Mistake on the National Graduates Survey (NGS)

OK, everyone. Gather ’round for a kind of mind-bending story, which totally invalidates much of what I was saying earlier this week about the NGS.

So, NGS is a two-year follow up of graduates, done every five years. So, the 2002 survey looked at the class of 2000, 2007 surveys looked at the class of 2005.  Now, as I noted yesterday, for reasons unknown, Statistics Canada chose to wait until 2013 to do its follow-up of 2010 graduates.  My strong suspicion is that it was because Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) was yanking their chain on funding for so long that they missed their 2012 window, but I don’t know for sure (NGS, like many surveys, isn’t actually funded by Statscan – it’s paid for by an Ottawa line department.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the way Ottawa works.)

Now, waiting a year creates a problem because it screws with the time-series.  If the 2010 class is interviewed  three years out, it’s basically useless because you can’t legitimately compare it with the 2005 or data.  But of course Statscan’s not stupid, I thought to myself: they’ll just ask the questions with respect to a period twelve months earlier and get comparable data that way.  Because who in their right mind would deliberately screw with a time-series that goes back 30 years?

And when I asked someone about this a few months ago, that was more or less the answer I got – the survey would be changed to adjust for the difference in timing.  So when the first NGS release tables appeared late last week from Statscan, and they were labelled “2012 labour force activity of 2010 graduates”, I naturally assumed – hey, Statscan’s done the right thing.  And so I published it.

Then, yesterday AM, we received an email from Statscan.  It contained a new set of tables, with a note saying that while the data they published April 4th was correct, some “mislabeling” had occurred, and that I should destroy the earlier data.

Turns out that what Statscan actually published was data from 2013 data – that is, three years after graduation, not two.  This made me review the 2013 NGS instrument and realize that their re-adjustment of the instrument to account for the gap in surveys was half-assed at best. With a little bit of fooling around with the data, it might be possible to get numbers on employment and income two years out – but since Statscan has declared that it’s not going to put out a Public Use Microdata File (PUMF) for NGS, that’s essentially impossible for anyone to do independently.  Meanwhile, the only data Statscan’s giving out for free is data that is completely non-comparable with any other data in the survey’s 30-year history.

Bra. Vo.

The upshot is: ignore anything you read about comparative-over-time graduate labour market outcomes from NGS from me or anyone else.  Thanks to Statscan (and possibly ESDC), it’s all worthless.

If there were ever a time to just cut funding to NGS and replace the whole thing with administrative data linkages, it’s now.  The argument for keeping it on the grounds of it being a great time-series just disappeared.

April 08

Early NGS Results: The Caveats

Yesterday, I showed you some charts on graduate outcomes indicating that the kids were – mostly – alright: employment steady, Full-time employment steady, graduate incomes steady, etc.  But there are three significant reasons to be cautious about over-interpreting these results.

The first is that this year’s NGS was conducted differently from previous iterations.  In previous years, the survey was conducted two years after graduation.  This year, the survey was done three years out, with graduates being interviewed in 2013 about what their situation was in 2012, to try to keep the 2-year time frame.  This creates an array of small biases in responses, though whether it creates over- or under-estimation of employment and income is hard to say.

The second caveat has to do with the survey response rate.  In 2000, the NGS response rate was 70%; this year’s response rate was 49%, which has to be one of the lowest ever seen in a Statscan survey.  Partly, this is probably an artefact of waiting an extra year to survey students, and partly it’s that students are getting harder to follow (when you survey on landlines, the caller eats the cost – on cell phones, part of the cost burden falls on the respondent, which can’t be good for response rates).

The third problem is the trickiest.  When Statscan reports income and employment figures, it does so only for those students who do not enrol in programs leading to further certification.  This eliminates some problematic data from people who are either still in school, or who have gained an additional credential (which is good), but at the same time it creates problems because the proportion excluded changes over the economic cycle.

Percentage of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Seeking Additional Certifications Within 2 Years of Graduation

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The suspicious might look at this and say: “holy moley! The NGS data on income and employment ignores half of all university graduates – surely that’s where all the underemployed  barista sociology graduates are!  Skills Mismatch Bingo!”

But slow down a minute.  First, the rates at which college and university grads attempt to acquire extra credentials mirror one another; this is not clear evidence in favour of a “college-grads-have-it-better-than-university-grads”, or a “skills mismatch” proposition.

Second, it’s not at all clear that, among university grads, the phenomenon is disproportionately due to Arts grads.  Even in the best of economic times, 40% of university grads continue on to extra credentials, and they come from all across the university.  The proportions by field of study for 2005 (2010 numbers not yet available) actually showed that Science students (62%) were more likely to do so than humanities (56%) and social science (45%) grads (Fine arts was at 38%, engineering, math, and computer science grads were at 30%).

All of which is to say: while the employment and income data from NGS are technically apples-to-apples comparisons, the fact is that the basis of these comparisons varies slightly from survey to survey.  Some of the good news on graduate income and employment rates is probably due more to students choosing to take extra education rather than brave the job market.  It thus probably isn’t entirely fair to say that the 2012 data implies things are getting better for grads.

That said, you can’t twist this evidence to support the idea that there has been a radical change in the labour market for graduates.  It’s mostly as it’s always been, with a slight up-tick in people taking more than one credential.

So can we please ditch the “everything is different” narratives and get back to real issues now?

 

April 07

Early Results from the National Graduates Survey: The Good News

Some very early National Graduates Survey (NGS) results are out, and they’re mostly good news.  The NGS – for the uninitiated – surveys university and college graduates two years after graduation.  It’s closely watched for its numbers on graduate employment, income, and debt.  Statscan has been doing this now for a little over thirty years (the first one was on the class of 1982), and since 1990 it has been conducted every five years.

Usually, when Statscan does a major survey, it “launches” with an analytical report and the release of a public-use microdata file (PUMF).  This time, however, they chose to do neither, which is more than a bit weird.  It’s welcome in the sense that it gets data into the public domain more quickly, but unwelcome in the sense that the only data available is what you get via a set of highly truncated standard tables (no debt data this year, for a start) and what people can order via custom tables for hundreds – possibly thousands – of dollars.  I’ve ordered quite a bit of data, which I can hopefully share with all of you relatively soon, but for today we’re only going with what’s in the standard tables.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

The picture on employment and immigration looks pretty good.  To be clear about what’s being shown here, NGS only releases data on graduates who finished a level of study but who did not take any further education.  In theory, this is a way of making comparisons more apples-to-apples: it avoids methodological problems of adding incomes of BA students who went on to do a 1-year Master’s degree in with students who just did a Bachelor’s degree.  It’s less than totally satisfactory, but it has the benefit of simplicity.  Anyways, here’s what the employment data looks like for college and Bachelor’s grads:

Full- and Part-time Employment Rates for College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012)

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Got that?  From the height of the boom to the middle of the current “recession”, there’s essentially no difference either in terms of overall employment or in terms of full-time employment.  To the extent that there are people struggling and having a hard time finding a job, it’s business as usual: the proportion has not changed since the height of the boom (for both college and university grads, unemployment rates in both periods were 5%, with another 5% not in the labour force).

Ok, you say, but what about income?  Surely the recession has done a real number on graduates’ salaries?  Well, no.  Adjusted for inflation, there’s been a rise in median salaries of 7% for Bachelor’s graduates and 8% for college graduates.

Median Salaries of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012), in $2012

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My favourite crazy pieces of data from NGS, though, are the province-by-province figures.  Check out Newfoundland, which according to NGS now pumps out the country’s best-off college and university graduates:

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These are all good stories, worth keeping in your armoury next time someone whines about skills gaps or spouts some nonsense about a lost generation.  But there are a few caveats to this story.  I’ll deal with them tomorrow.

March 28

A Reminder Why Education, Skills, and Training are Provincial Responsibilities

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about skills, skilled trades, skilled personnel, BAs vs. welders, jobs without people/people without jobs, and all kinds of other nonsense about education, training, and the labour market.  And to a large extent, when we argue about this stuff (and I’m including myself here), we’re arguing based on national-level data.

But the labor market isn’t national.

A recent paper by Kelly Foley and David Green made this point quite strongly.  This paper – delivered at an IRPP conference a few weeks ago – makes a number of important observations about education and the labour market, which I’ll have to save for another day.  But one of the most important points it makes is about returns to education in different parts of Canada.

The full paper isn’t available online, but I’d direct everyone’s attention the powerpoint, which is available here.   Slide 4 reminds us of the following:

1)      Among 25-34 year olds, return-on-investment for graduate degrees is much lower for men than for women.

2)      Among men, but not women in the same age group, the gap between the rate of return on bachelor’s degrees and college diplomas has narrowed sharply over the past decade or so.

3)      In fact, rates of return on all types of education are just a heck of a lot better for young women than men.  Startlingly so.

What’s all this gender stuff that got to do with regionalism in the labour market?  Well, take a look at slide 5, which breaks down male earnings by region.  In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.

I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t because universities outside Quebec and Ontario are uniquely bad or their colleges uniquely good.  Rather, it’s because labour markets in these regions are looking for fundamentally different sets of skills.  And as far as entry level workers are concerned, it’s pretty clear that they’re asking for more of the type produced by colleges, and less from universities.

And this brings us back to the national debate.  A lot of the rhetoric around skilled trades and the uselessness of Bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Ken Coates, much of the Conservative party) is coming from western Canada, where this actually fits the available data.  Equally, the firing back on the same issues (e.g. me, among others) is coming from central Canada, where this also fits the available data.  To a large extent we’re just talking past each other; both correct locally, but less so nationally (I’ll try to be more careful about this in the future).

But here’s the takeaway point: the fact that the labour market rewards different types of education differently in different parts of the country is exactly the reason the Feds’ involvement in education and training should be as minimal as possible.  We are simply too diverse a country for one-size fits-all policy tools.  Kudos to Foley and Green for reminding us of that.

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