OUR VIEW: Higher ed emphasis needed for prosperity
Published: Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 15:01
It was Epictetus who said, “Only the educated are free.”
This quote is open to interpretation, but most analyze its meaning as only those with an education or some sort of schooling have the advantage in society to do whatever they want — economically at least.
The editorial staff applauds efforts by Erik Mikkelsen and Education First to improve business in Utah by aiming to provide two-thirds of the state’s population some kind of post-high school education by 2020. Having such an educated population would improve Utah’s attractiveness to business and economic growth.
In general, people point to Utah’s low taxes and conservative-dominated political scene as the main factors to move or start a business here. However, dangling the carrot of low taxes is not enough. Utah’s competitiveness lies in its several high-quality colleges and universities.
One of our editors is from Nevada, another low-tax haven. There is no state income tax, and most state revenue is from taxes on gambling and mining, the state’s largest industries. However, people don’t need degrees to work in these fields, which has led to only 22.2 percent of Nevadans 25 years and older holding a four-year degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To contrast, 29.6 percent of Utahns 25 and above hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, 1.4 percent more than the national average of 28.2 percent.
This lack of economic diversity hurt Nevada when the Great Recession hit. Because much of the state’s populace works for the gaming industry, an industry where higher education is relatively worthless, the economic decline led to an unemployment rate of around 14 percent at one time, the highest in the nation: Nevada still leads the nation in unemployment at 10.8 percent as of November 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since Nevada has few other industries to fall back on, it must slowly limp its way out of the hole its own educational deficiencies created.
Low taxes are not everything, as Nevada shows. What matters for a healthy state economy is a diversity of industries, propped up by a populace of individuals trained to work in these industries. Utah’s educated population and wide variety of economic activity helped it survive the worst of the recession: In fact, Utah’s unemployment rate of 5.1 percent puts it at number six for lowest unemployment rates in the nation.
Utah’s economic success will lead to a bright future — but only if education follows close behind.