Study reveals BC degrees pay off for recent grads

In the game of life, you win or you die.

The Research Universities’ Council of British Columbia (RUCBC) released a report on October 24 titled Putting Degrees to Work, the findings of which indicate that a university degree from a BC institution has substantial value.

The report compiled survey data collected from the province’s class of 2008 two years and five years after receiving their degrees.

Findings showed that the overall unemployment rate for university graduates at the five-year mark (2013) was 4.7 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 6.6 per cent and the BC youth unemployment rate of 12.9 per cent.

In an interview with The Peak, SFU president and chair of RUCBC Andrew Petter said, “I was pleased that this [data], in fact, validated what I believe to be true about university education  [. . . that it] is clearly a pathway that will not only be beneficial to [students] as citizens, but will also help graduates in terms of securing good jobs.”

He continued, “If you compare the rate of unemployment of graduates five years out [. . .] it’s pretty obvious that university education is very much serving the needs of students.”

The report showed that BC university graduates are also garnering comparably high salaries, earning an average of $48,000 a year two years after graduating, and an average of $60,000 a year five years post-graduation.

In Ontario, home to some of Canada’s top-ranked universities, individuals with undergraduate degrees are making roughly the same amount as BC graduates two years after receiving their degrees.

According to a report published in November 2013 by the Council of Ontario Universities, graduates of the class of 2010 were earning a little over $49,000 annually, on average.

Putting Degrees to Work also reported that over 96 per cent of British Columbia grads from 2008 were working in fields requiring post-secondary education by 2013, no matter their field of study.

“In some disciplines, it takes a little longer sometimes to get into that career path than in others. And some career paths are likely to produce higher incomes, at least earlier on,” explained Petter. “But generally, coming out of a university with a degree puts you in a much better position in the labour market than if you hadn’t done that.”

Earlier this year, the provincial government revealed its BC Skills and Jobs Blueprint, which refocuses the province’s education strategies to emphasize high-demand occupations, including many in the energy sector such as welding, pipe-fitting, and heavy machine operation.

This plan includes a redirect of 25 per cent of provincial operating grants, currently provided to post-secondary institutions, to training for in-demand jobs.

For Petter, however, the data showcases the continued success and importance of traditional education: “I think [this report] shows that universities are already very responsive to the labour market. [The] government can take some comfort from the fact that universities are already moving in the direction that they want us to.”

As to concerns that this funding shift might harm certain programs, Petter said, “Simon Fraser’s philosophy is one based on student-demand [. . .] The budget follows the students rather than the other way around.”

He continued, “If we can give students flexibility, some work experience, and support our faculties to respond to that student demand, we’ll be more successful in meeting the students’ needs in terms of employment.”

SFU’s president made sure to point out, however, that a university education is valuable for reasons other than simple remuneration: “I hope that universities are not just about preparing students for the labour market, [but] about helping people to be able to think critically in ways that will assist them, not only in getting a job and being successful in a career, but also in being contributing citizens, building a better society, having more gratifying lives for themselves, [and] making good choices.”

Chuckling, he added, “To the extent that there has been this myth out there that if you go to university, you’ll end up as a barista, serving coffee, it’s kind of nice to know that, even disciplines that some people have suggested [. . .] would [not] lead to a good career, in fact, do.”