Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 13th 2014 Contents SBG4 | NEWS
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt APRIL 13 • 2014
The opportunity cost of tertiary education
Is your degree still worth it?
The campus is quiet for late afternoon.
A group of students---a mix of business
and arts undergraduates---sit under one
of the big samaan trees behind the
library. The same question is put to
random students making their way
across the quadrangle. It is a good spot
because students from the different faculties are on
their way to the Main Library.
"Why are you doing your degree?"
There are many answers, but they are all variations
of a theme. The common thread is the hope of a better
future: better jobs; better pay and a higher standard
But is it that simple anymore?
There was a time when a university education did
mean an automatic increase in the graduate s standard
of living. The pattern held so long as the supply of
degree holders was less than the demand and the econ-
omy was able to absorb and provide places for those
who achieved tertiary education.
By various estimates, the number of tertiary-educated
people in society made up a little over one per cent of
the country s population in the 1970s.
Opening the GATE
Subsequent policy decisions by governments, since then,
have seen the number of those opting to do degrees jump
to 11.5 per cent between 2002 and 2011, according to the
UN s 2013 Human Development Report. This has been fuelled
by programmes like Dollar for Dollar and its successor, Gov-
ernment Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE), whose pur-
pose has been to widen access to tertiary education. The aim
here was two fold: to increase country s skills bank while
promoting social equity.
GATE has had some issues.
The Ministry of Science Technology and Tertiary Education
is making attempts to clear up wastage and duplication within
the system, but appears to have a way to go in tracking where
graduates who utilise its funds eventually end up and if their
education is contributing to the long-term benefit of the
With more people attaining tertiary-level qualifications,
the relative value of a degree has been eroded. It no longer
conveys the advantage it once did as more and more people
are competing for a limited number of jobs across sectors.
This means that the university graduates are spending more
time unemployed after leaving tertiary institutes and are
forced to accept jobs that are lower paying than graduates
may have received a generation ago. Graduates are going for
jobs that are not in their field or to those that do not require
a university education at all.
The situation is similar to what has been happening to
graduates in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy since the global
economic crash in 2008. Commentators in those societies
have termed that situation a "youth crisis".
In the US and the UK, university students are not only
contending with the depreciation in the relative value of their
degree, but also with the repayment of massive student loans.
Given the above, the Sunday BG is asking: is it actually
worth it to pursue a university education anymore?
Are the alternatives available becoming the more sensible
options to chose after secondary school? And, just what are
Opportunity cost defined
The term "opportunity cost" is hardly used by anyone but
economists. It becomes important, though, when discussing
the worth of a tertiary degree currently as well as the choices
open to graduates.
The opportunity cost of tertiary education is the alternative
or choice not taken in order to pursue it. So for the average
person, the opportunity cost of a tertiary education may be
income lost by not taking a job as they earn their degree. It
may also be the inability to acquire work experience and
Melina, Rajesh, Patricia and Sally are all people who have
sacrificed years of their time and much of their own money
to earn their qualifications.
Melina has a doctorate in development economics from
Michigan State. Rajesh has recently completed the professional
certificate from Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply
(CIPS). Patricia has an MPhil in marine biology and Sally has
a law degree.
Continued on Page SBG5
Links Archive April 12th 2014 April 14th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page