Whether or not you should go to university is a big question to ask of someone when they are 17 or 18 years of age. And I don’t think anyone can answer this question for you. It’s a personal decision.
In recent years, the problem is that the price of university or higher education has been increasing year on year- faster than inflation. It’s becoming more and more expensive. Check out Is university worth it by Your Money Blueprint to see his thoughts on university costs.
He makes some great points about the effects of debt loading an 18-year-old and how long it will take to get back to a net worth of $0.0. I’m not going to go over this; rather I have dug into some data provided by states NZ about the education levels of Kiwis, their debts, and their net worth
Let’s first look at the education levels of the population.
Education Level of Kiwis
The above pie chart shows the highest level of educations that Kiwis have.
The proportion of kiwis with a level 1 to 6 diploma or certificate, sits at 53.9 per cent in 2018, this included in this group are people with ‘other post-school qualifications’. The number of New Zealanders without qualification has been decreasing from 2016, currently sitting at 19.1%.
The proportion of kiwis with only a school qualification, or NCEA, in 2018 at 27.4 per cent, has remained stable from 2016 to 2017. The proportion of Kiwis with university degrees, including Bachelors, Postgraduate and honours degrees, and doctorates was 27.2%.
So nearly a third of Kiwis have been to University and gained a degree.
Now it was hard to find any data on just student debt levels. Still, data was available on the average and median debt held by Kiwis against the highest education level they obtained.
If student debt is such a burden on university students, the data will show that they would be carrying the highest debt amongst all the education levels. In fact, that is exactly what is shown in the data- that Kiwis holding postgraduate, masters, doctorate, and bachelor degrees have the highest debt levels.
The average and median debt for kiwis against highest education levels are shown below. Remember, this is total debt- it includes student loans, mortgages, car loans, and other debts. Now if you are struggling with Debt, check out this post.
The average debt of university students is about double any other education level. Now the trade-off is that getting that degree will get you a ticket into earning a better income. So let’s look at income versus education level.
The above graph shows the proportion of each of the education levels in different income bands. You can see that No qualification and levels 1-3 nearly make up 60% of the 25-45k band and only 19% of university-educated Kiwis.
Whereas university degrees make up nearly 53% of the over 95k band. Only 20% of no qualifications and levels 1-3 are in the 95k income band. Now the take away from this should be that although most high-income kiwis have university degrees, every education level is represented in the high-income band.
In fact, all education levels are in all band- so you could say that education by its self doesn’t determine how much you earn. Rather you could say that it might be easier to get a higher paying job with a university degree in certain sectors.
So far, we have seen from the data that university students indeed have higher debt than other education levels. Still, they are also overly represented in the high-income bands. So lets now look at the net worth distribution of Kiwis with different education levels.
The average and median net worth of Kiwis doesn’t paint a clear picture. There is no clear evidence that university education is any better than level 5-6 or “other”- In fact, “other” educated kiwis have the highest mean and median net worth.
So what does this tell us?
University educated Kiwis have more debt than alternatively educated Kiwis- however, they seem to concentrate in higher income brackets and tend to have similar or lower net worth than other education brackets.
Kiwis with “other” education seem to be doing quite well- average debt is around half that of university students. Simultaneously, their income is evenly spread amongst all income brackets, but they have a high net worth. I assume that stats NZ classify apprenticeships as “other” education? I’m not 100% sure. But there are 163,000 Kiwis in this category.
So it’s not that clear from aggregate data over the entire population which education is best, given that this data includes the university students who had free fees back in the 1980s. What the data does show is that any education is better than no qualification. Kiwis with no qualification generally have low debt, and low net worth, and are largely in the lower-income brackets.
So I think you can conclude that education is an investment- but I can’t tell you to invest in education– your situation might be different.
I’m grateful that my former 17-year-old self decided to go to university- in hindsight, that is. At the time, I decided to go to university because I hadn’t decided what to do once I finished school. It seemed like a natural progression at the time.
I started off doing engineering but then transitioned to a pure science degree in Physics and Mathematics- as these subjects interested me. And at that stage, I still didn’t have a plan as to what I would do once I finished the degrees.
I got the bachelors degree and then thought “now what”. One of the lecturers advised me to continue with a masters degree in Physics, which was apparently highly sorted after. I landed a training job in that field before I even finished my thesis.
In my experience, my former 17-year-old self had no idea what to do so continued to study until a career option came my way. Not a good strategy as it relies on a series of unique fortunate events for success. So if you are deciding to go to university, take a moment to think hard about what you want to study at university or other options open to you that don’t require the huge student loans.
Note: all data comes from stat.govt.nz
Let me know in the comments what you think about the value of a university degree in today’s economy and the cost associated with it.
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