Aspire higher to reduce your risk

Aspire higher to reduce your risk

It is estimated that in Maine, more than 200,000 people have “some college” education but have not yet attained their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. In New Hampshire, there are approximately 146,000 people in the same boat. Yet, census data says people who have graduated from an institution of higher learning will have lifetime earnings far greater than those who simply have a high school diploma or some college. How much of a difference?

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that a high school grad between 25 and 64 years of age earns about $30,000 per year. Those with a Bachelor’s degree are averaging $45,000 per year. Over a 40 year work-life, the one with a degree may earn as much as $600,000 more than those without a degree. For people earning a Master’s degree, they may expect to earn as much as $1.2 million more in their career than those without a degree. Those simple facts suggest it’s worth getting a degree or even an advanced degree.

So, let’s imagine igniting that well of pent up talent among those with “some college.” The benefits to our communities would be immeasurable.

Education is the great equalizer; it is the ticket to creating more options in one’s life. If there is a single public investment that produces exponential returns, it is funding post-secondary education to help people attain degrees or technical certifications. Bringing marketable skills to the workplace isn’t simply about understanding how to put tab A into slot B; it is completing a course of study that helps engineer those tabs, develops critical thinking and improves the ability to communicate. It also is about broadening the horizon of opportunities that allow us to dream, create and fulfill. In a phrase: to aspire higher.

Another fundamental truth in our society is that free enterprise, individual responsibility and personal well-being require that public higher education be available at a reasonable cost. Said another way, “you can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Public higher education is a smart taxpayer investment.

What are the facts?

Northern New England faces a dwindling number of high school graduates. We simply are not producing enough babies or attracting enough people from away to keep up with the death, retirement and exodus rates. New Hampshire’s population grew by a mere half percent between 2010 and 2013 according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The same data shows Maine actually losing population. The pool of recent high school graduates is getting smaller and the competition for their tuition dollars is fierce.

In Southern Maine alone, there are at least eight colleges and university campuses offering degrees. Overall, both Maine and New Hampshire boast more than 25 institutions of higher learning.

When you add all the other education options that are available out-of-state and online, we have a wealth of faculty and programs for teaching liberal arts and technical skills to everyone ready and willing to learn. The key is to make public education affordable which means taxpayer support for well-managed public universities.

Not only is having a degree highly correlated to earning more money, it allows people to care for their families, buy homes and invest for retirement. If you have earned such a degree, it is in your self-interest to see others achieve one, as well. An educated and productive workforce is more self-sufficient throughout their lives.

Another fact is that the baby boomers are retiring at a fast clip which will leave employers with gaping holes that will need to be filled. Forty five percent of workers in the private sector in Maine are over the age of 45. More than half of those in educational services, health care, transportation and manufacturing are over 45. These positions need to be filled from our current residents or by people from away. The alternative is to lose those jobs to more populated and better educated regions of commerce.

Learning shouldn’t stop when we retire. No better prescription can be offered for maintaining health and well-being than continuing education through such programs as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Founded at USM, the institute now is offering courses throughout the nation to those over the age of 50. In New Hampshire, programs are available at Dartmouth and Granite State. With these courses and student dialog, socialization and mental acuity are enhanced and our quality of life is improved.

Higher education is part of a risk management strategy whether for your business or society as a whole. For business owners, the prospect of perpetuating businesses with well-educated, younger, willing and capable buyers is very much in their self-interest. In addition, an educated workforce can be more productive and innovative.

Whether for yourself, your employees or family members, making continuing education an imperative will improve our economy, boost employment and enrich our health and well-being. If you can help make higher education an expectation in your place of business, family and community, we can look forward to raising all ships on the tide of knowledge.

Public higher education is a critical part of meeting that objective.

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