Recent media reports mislead viewers about labour market demand and outcomes for university graduates. The Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada reports that from July 2008 to July 2012 -- despite a difficult economy -- there was a net increase of 700,000 new jobs for university graduates nationally, while the available jobs for those with no postsecondary education decreased by more than 640,000 during the same period.
The facts are that Canadian university graduates are securing good jobs, and the income premium for university graduates is growing. The average income for English and French-language majors with a university degree is well above $50,000 annually. History and biology majors both have average earnings above $60,000. Graduates of computer and information sciences and social sciences have average earnings pushing $70,000 a year. In business, average earnings are close to $80,000.
Tuition has risen in the last decade, but so has student aid from governments and universities. Using constant dollars, the average student debt load in Canada has not changed in the last 12 years and more than 40 per cent of students graduate debt-free.
Local data bears this finding out. A 2009 Council on Post-Secondary Education survey of 7,025 recent university and college graduates in Manitoba found that 61 per cent reported having no debt at the time of the survey (four to 10 months after graduating). Of those who borrowed, 79 per cent reported having no difficulties repaying their student loans. And 88 per cent of respondents agreed their academic program was worth the financial cost to them and their family.
The 2012 Canadian University Survey Consortium survey of graduating students found that 53 per cent of University of Winnipeg graduates had no debt at the time of the survey (during their last year of university). Meanwhile, 95 per cent of U of W graduates reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the overall quality of education they received.
Given these positive outcomes, it's no wonder that Canadian university enrolment continues to grow.
In addition to improved health outcomes, increased volunteerism, higher rates of participation in elections, and lower rates of conflict with the law, university graduates have higher lifelong earnings and lower unemployment rates than their peers. University education continues to offer the best return on financial investment that individuals as well as communities can make in developing human potential.
Vice-President, Research, Recruitment and International
University of Winnipeg