The biggest challenges facing our province are well known; we have an aging population and a sluggish economy.

At the same time, we don’t have enough opportunities to retain young New Brunswickers, creating a dangerous cycle that only makes our government’s struggles to pay for our hospitals, roads and schools even more difficult.

There are no easy ways out of this problem – but there are solutions.

Investing in education is one of them. A smarter New Brunswick is a wealthier and healthier New Brunswick.

Students and their parents know that people with credentials beyond high school are happier, healthier, live longer, are much more likely to be employed and make more money over their careers.

This is why Canada is a world leader in the proportion of our students attending our community colleges. This is why enrolments at our universities have surpassed a million students this year for the first time in Canadian history. This is also why, in the past few years, Canada has been a leader among OECD nations when it comes to adults between the ages of 25 and 64 who have completed post-secondary education.

This is great news for Canada as nearly half of the income taxes in Canada are paid by university graduates who form about a fifth of the population.

In New Brunswick, our colleges and universities build a better workforce, attract new talent to the province and make local companies more competitive.

Investing in education is one of the smartest investments that individuals, parents and governments can make.

For the province, its annual investment in UNB is paid back, with an additional return of six per cent, thanks mainly to three factors. Our graduates earn higher salaries and thus pay more taxes as a result of their education. UNB-related expenditures in our local economy generate significant tax revenue for our government. The province also receives a benefit from reduced health care expenditures as studies demonstrate lower medical costs for post-secondary graduates over their lifetimes compared to those without higher education.

In short, taxpayers get back more than what is invested in UNB on an annual basis.

But investing in post-secondary education is about more than just a solid return on investment each year to the province.

It’s also about creating opportunity through the discovery of new and better ways of doing things. It’s about commercializing new technologies, which creates jobs and wealth.

New ideas allow creativity, culture and art to flourish. New insights protect our environment, our health and our society.

Our universities and colleges are engines of innovation, where people, ideas and investment come together in new and powerful ways. It’s time for government, industry, colleges and universities to accelerate New Brunswick’s social and economic progress.

This will help us keep more young New Brunswickers here in the province.

Today, more than half of UNB’s 3,000 graduates each year stay in New Brunswick and more than 84 per cent of these students become employed in the province within two years of graduation.

Consequently, this group of graduates injects $32 million of incremental salaries and wages (compared to those without an undergraduate degree) into the provincial economy, $320 million over the next 10 years, $1.8 billion over their average lifetime. This same group will pay a minimum of $3.5 million in incremental provincial income tax each year, $35 million over the next 10 years, $196 million over their average lifetime.

We all want to see even more of our alumni stay and work in New Brunswick, creating increased prosperity for our province.

Educating more New Brunswickers so that they can achieve their potential – and creating opportunities through innovation to retain those same young people in our province – is exactly the positive cycle we need to change the future of our province.

Education and innovation form the path to a better, smarter New Brunswick.

It is not an easy path. Our economy remains fragile, leading to necessary austerity measures. We all know that cuts alone will not be sufficient to do away with the province’s budget deficit. We need to improve productivity and generate new wealth and new opportunities for our citizens through smart investments such as our colleges and universities.

That’s one of the reasons that our government and our universities have been working towards a multi-year funding framework. The solid foundation provided by a predictable and sustainable agreement will allow enhanced social and economic innovation and, ultimately, a smarter New Brunswick that sustains prosperity for its people.

When our students and our government invest in post-secondary education, everyone wins.

New Brunswick has been known for its dramatic landscape, its natural resources and its rich history. It’s time for our province to be known for innovation and entrepreneurship and for its bright future.

It’s time to use our colleges and universities even more to achieve that future.

We’re ready and eager to help.

H. E. A. (Eddy) Campbell is president and vice-chancellor of the University of New Brunswick. This opinion piece originally appeared in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal on Monday, January 30, 2012.