Educating Our Children


2013-11-05 Educating our Children

Tomorrow is “take your kid to work day” so I have been thinking about education a little more than usual this week.

Saving for post-secondary education for our three boys is the top priority for the Nunes family right now.  You might think an actuary would be saving for retirement – and we are doing that too – but the immediate focus is on the kids.  Adam started Grade 9 this year and Michael and David are right behind him finishing up Grade 8.  It doesn’t take a PhD in demography to see the huge hit we having coming from 2017 to 2021…or maybe 2025 depending on how much post-secondary education is needed to get them on their way in life.  The only certainty is that I won’t be retiring until school is paid for however long that takes.

When Paula and I met, my mantra was my father’s – “every child must get at least one University degree”.  Over the years I have softened my view for two reasons.  First, I don’t think that every kid’s best future follows the University road.  Some will be better off at college or developing a trade.  Pushing them down the wrong road is a waste of time and money and is likely to cause a lot of unnecessary strain in relationships.  But the bigger question for me today is the question of what value University represents today and how that compares to the cost?

When I went to Waterloo, it cost a few thousand dollars in tuition each year to get a degree which was widely recognized in the actuarial field in Canada.  It was a ticket to get into the industry and get started on a career.  Today we regularly hear reports of University graduates who are unemployed or are working in a minimum wage retail or service job waiting for the break in employment that will launch their career.  At the same time, the cost of attending University rises and more and more students leave school with a level of debt that is completely disconnected from their job prospects.

At the same time, the internet is changing everything.  Khan Academy is one of my favourite educational websites – and it is free!  I try to convince my kids that they should spend more time there – but the school system does not seem to promote free online learning that will cannibalize their own product – and it is hard for learning to compete with NHL 14.

So I am wondering, if all types of learning is available for free online, what is the longer-term value proposition that Universities are offering for those students that don’t want to pursue research or a PhD?  The large American Universities are charging $40,000+ for a year of school.  In Canada we pay much less but it is still a significant cost.  I just read that an MBA from Western or Queens is in the $75,000+ range.  Will University prepare them in a way that online learning can’t?  Will going to work after high school at McDonald’s and trying to get onto the management track be a better bet than getting a degree in business?

The best answer I can come up with is that there is still a benefit to University in making life long friends and growing from child to adult.  But I am not sure how much I want to pay for my kids to have that privilege.  More importantly, I am not sure if there is a better road to getting into a career.  We are going to keep saving for University but at the same time I am going to keep asking these questions.  Normally, I am paid to have answers – on this subject I just have questions.  I would love to hear your thoughts.



Joe Nunes
Joe Nunes
Joseph Nunes, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Actuarial Solutions Inc., has practiced in the area of pensions and retiree health plans for over 30 years. He has experience with many types of plans including single-employer, multi-employer, private sector, government, unionized, non-unionized, as well as registered and non-registered executive plans.


  1. Avatar Elizabeth Horlock says:

    I appreciate your cost / benefit analysis of a university education. At a minimum, the university experience seems to be the “school of soft knocks” as teens transition to young adults. With the abolition of grade 13, students are being asked to make choices sooner and on top of the other concerns you raise, I worry about the maturity of our young people and their context for making long term decisions. As the parent of a grade 10 student, I am more and more considering the concept of a gap year – promoting a 12 month period when my daughter can enroll in one or two post secondary course(s) while she pursues and grows through non-academic hobbies and interests. I greatly value the benefit of education, but as you noted, there are different paths that should be considered.

  2. Avatar John Dark says:

    Joe : I agree with many of your sentiments. My parents had a grade 6 and high school education respectively and they were mono maniacal – it wasn’t “if you go to university” but “when you go”. All 4 of us have done well but I’m not sure that we necessarily needed to go right from high school directly there. A year or two spent learning more about ourselves and life might have stood us in good stead. I am thankful for the opportunity the Waterloo co-operative programme provided because without that and with 3 siblings immediately behind me things might have been even tighter than they were.

    Of course I need to acknowledge all the sacrifices my parents made so I can have today the stuff they never did have.

    All the best

    John Dark

  3. Avatar Kyle Bard says:

    Hi Joe:

    Great blog! So true in so many ways. Our children are a little younger than yours but we are in the same boat. It doesn’t make sense to try and force a square peg into a round hole.

  4. Joe:
    When I graduated in 1962 (pre-history) Arts grads had a lot of trouble finding jobs. Even some engineers did (due to the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project in 1959). So this generation’s job problems is an old one to ancients like me.
    Part of today’s problem is that the pool of eligibles has increased by a factor of at least 5. Most kids now entering would not have been eligible in my generation.
    To harp on some of the points I tried to get across in Mthel (but obviously failed), one goes to university not for the friends you make (they drop away in time) but rather to learn critical thinking.

  5. Avatar Shari McNeill says:

    Hi Joe – great topic. As a parent of a 23yrd old who has just graduated from university, here are a few observations. 1) Maturity level: My son took a “victory lap” with our full support because he wanted to stay in high school and play another year of high school hockey… Clearly his reasoning showed he did not have the maturity to attend post-secondary learning, especially on my dime! A gap year is well worth it. The following year was a complete transformation. So parents, resist the urge to push your kid to the next level. Do not think a delay suggests your kid is a slow learner. 2) Boomer parents are the problem: I knew that colleges offer a lot of new careers that pay better than university careers, especially compared to jobs that hire general BA grads. However, to my disgust my son refused to even consider a college education… because he said colleges were for kids who weren’t smart enough for university. I was stunned by this thinking since he didn’t get it from our family. Turns out many of his friends thought like this… because their parents said it was so. OMG! But think back to when us Boomers were graduating high school… colleges marketed to kids who couldn’t get into university. This old thinking is still “out there” and can brainwash your own kids. Beware. Ironically, my newly minted university grad is now signed up to attend college in January to augment his BA. He readily agrees now that he had it all wrong back then. 3) Be “sold” on the university degree: Since my son wouldn’t look at a college program I insisted he research and “sell” me on what jobs his chosen university program would give him. He had to delve right into the curriculum of all 4 years to show me what practical training he would get, rather than just theory that is useless on a resume. He had to list for me the names of actual careers and their salary levels. Where are grads today after a few years out? It was only after he did all this research and successfully sold me on it that I gave my blessing to attend that university program. It’s too soon to tell if this fully worked but my son is definitely getting interviews based on his degree for real jobs. So make your kid do the work. In the process they may discover the degree leads to… not a lot. 4) Don’t be in a rush: this generation of kids are waiting for us Boomers to retire, at which point they will have a glut of jobs to choose from. For every 2 boomers who retire there is only 1 young employee to replace them. So resist the Boomer urge to want to “get ahead” and get out front of everyone. That’s old thinking. Rather, patience will be rewarded… and in the meantime round out your education, do internships to get experience and cultivate connections so that when the jobs start to finally appear you are ready and qualified.

  6. Avatar Jim Cochrane says:

    Joe, even a year later this blog stands out. For this high school drop-out and great grandfather, I can’t begin to tell you of all the times and hurdles one has to overcome from not spending those critical pre-parent years learning about ourselves, life, and most importantly critical thinking, as the comments above espouse. As a parent of three, grandparent of seven and great grandparent of one, the problems of funding are only too apparent. Fortunately, we are able to provide some assistance and a life lesson at the same time with a financial bursary at high School graduation that is repeated after the completion of each successful educational year to reimburse the next year’s tuition. Unlike my brother whose daughters both have MBAs and one a PhD, and a grandson in Commerce Actuarial, I was not faced with decades of these bursaries for each child. It also helps to have been part of this industry during its golden years. It also helps that the most serious student of them is rated nationally in a sport in which many schools are offering scholarships in Canada and elsewhere. It turns out fortunately for me, my grand-kids have inherited my brother’s athletic abilities.
    Given today’s retirement realities, help from grandparents may be beyond for many.

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