By Stephen Ducharme
I sometimes feel my university experience was akin to a one-night stand, or at least a really short-term relationship. However much fun you had, or how much you feel you’ve learned, once you get that last exam in, that’s it: you’re done.
Don’t come back tomorrow and certainly don’t pick up that phone and ask how it’s been. There was no evolution in my academic life and no career waiting for me at the end of the convocation stage.
Yes, I’m comparing school to marriage. Probably a bad idea right? Still, you would hope that after all that investment, all that hard work, you would have some sort of lasting arrangement to find a career.
I applied to Carleton University not just because of the quality of their classics department but because Carleton had just unveiled a new post-grad alumni “myCareers” page. Grads could go and look at an exclusive classified listing of jobs across the world. I was sold.
The year after I graduated I would come home after my bartending shifts and log onto the site. I learned that for most jobs listed I was hopelessly under-qualified. My honours degree couldn’t hold a candle to a Master of Arts with spotless references and a minimum field experience of three years.
The only jobs I was qualified for seemed to be sorting beer bottles at the Beer Store, part-time, of course, and cleaning linens at the Westin.
And yes, these jobs were posted on the Carleton alumni page. Seriously? Although I hear the Westin has great benefits, it wasn’t really what I went into the humanities for.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it was never really in Carleton’s interest to provide any comprehensive support for their grads, and I’m sure they’re not the only school. Universities, after all, are a business; they are out to make money. More students means more money and more grads means less jobs. The result: bottle sorting.
As a country and as a generation I think we need to have a dialogue about what kind of tools we can give universities to help us find our successful careers.
It’s not entirely their fault; unlike other first-world countries Canada has no federal body for post-secondary education. There is no authoritative institution that could help schools streamline the programs available to the economic demands of our country. Right now they are more-or-less operating blind.
Maybe the answer is money. If the government offered economic incentives, more tax breaks or direct scholarships, the schools would correct themselves naturally to the money and students would leave the school with in-demand degrees.
Or maybe we mandate schools to spend X amount of their budget on career counseling?
Regardless of the means, I feel in some manner we need to influence the way universities approach the enrolment of students. Right now from a monetary perspective they are right to offer every program in expanding numbers even if, like my humanities degree, there may have been better options available.
Growing up I was told by my parents and my guidance councilors that university was a sure bet to have a successful career. That mentality has produced too many grads in fields for which there is no demand.
We are quickly turning into an indebted generation. We are over-educated and underpaid and losing the prime money-earning years of our lives.
The key is accountability and the buck stops at the schools. University shouldn’t leave you feeling helpless while someone walks away with $20,000 or more of your money. At the end of the day, we are the investors.
Lets talk about some solutions.