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Growing enrolments reflect labour-market demand

By Paul Davidson

NOTE: In the past weeks, Canada's universities have been sharing their visions and priorities with readers through this column, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. This is the fourth in a series of five columns. Paul Davidson is president of the AUCC.

Many universities across Canada are now welcoming their largest incoming class ever.

Growing enrolments have prompted some to ask if too many students are attending university. The simple answer is no. The fact is that Canada needs the trend in university enrolment growth to continue.

The number of full-time university students has more than doubled since 1980. In the last 15 years, we've experienced a 57 per cent growth in total full-time student enrolment, adding 325,000 more students across Canada.

What's driving this demand? Many are surprised to learn that it's not primarily demography. While enrolment doubled during the past 20 years, the number of youth in the key 18-to-24 year age range actually dropped by three per cent.
Simply put, students and their parents understand the value of a university degree, and they're responding to labour-market demand. They understand that the income premium of a university degree is large and growing. Over their working lives, university graduates typically earn $1.3 million more than those with only secondary school, and $1 million more than those with a college diploma.

And employers know the value of a university degree. It may surprise you that even during the recent recession, from September 2008 to March 2010, 300,000 additional new jobs were created in Canada for university graduates. Compare that to the bleak job market for those with no post-secondary education – where there were 430,000 fewer jobs in that same time frame.

In addition to the need to meet growing labour-market demands, Canada will need more university graduates in the future because of the looming demographic shift. Canadians are beginning to understand that we are part of an aging nation. In the next two decades, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 will double, while the number of typical working age people will grow by only eight per cent.

The facts show that a university education remains the surest path to prosperity and economic security. It not only improves the lives of individuals and families, but it builds communities and secures a high quality of life for all Canadians. Investing in a university education is one of the wisest investments students, their families and governments can make.

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