The Numbers Game

In a Starbucks coffee shop a few weeks ago, I sat across from two students madly studying for an upcoming exam. They had a laptop sitting beside them and hundreds of dollars of textbooks at their feet, as they sifted through their notes and caffeinated themselves in preparation for a long night of studying. The students discussed a range of topics. I couldn’t help but overhear them and wonder how much of that information they would actually need to get a job. I looked down at the textbook in my hand and wondered the same thing.

I remember a classmate once asked our social studies teacher in high school why we needed to know about history if we didn’t plan to study it past this class. The teacher replied, much to everyone’s annoyance, that it didn’t matter; he was teaching us how to learn. But four years of post-secondary commitments later, most of us want to be able to say we know more than just how to learn. We want reassurance that we’ll get hired. We want to know that it was all worth it.

There are many statistics that can tell you it is. “Today, more than 9 out of 10 youth surveyed aspire to post-secondary education” (Canada Department of Finance, 2005). Athabasca University participated in the Graduate Employment and Student Satisfaction survey. Eight universities and university colleges across Alberta participated in the survey. Out of 2000 students of the class of 2002, 83 per cent of grads considered the “program to be worth the financial cost” (Athabasca University, 2003/2004, p. 37). 73 per cent of all the combined employed graduates from all the schools felt the same way (Sorensen, 2002).

While that leaves us with a nice warm feeling towards our education system, it is likely that many students feel school is worthwhile because we can’t do much without post-secondary anymore. It’s worth it, because society has structured it that way. As Dr. Piper stated, “70 per cent (2004) of all new jobs will require some post-secondary education” (Education is key factor in job market, 2005). And “individuals”?working full time over a full year”?with a bachelor’s degree earn on average about 50 per cent more than high school graduates” (Canada, Department of Finance, 2005). The statistics citing how worthwhile school make me feel hollow when you consider how necessary school seems today.

Another statistic from the survey catches my eye. 75 per cent of grads held jobs in their area of study (Sorensen, 2002 p.76). Out of the Athabasca grads of 2002, 86 per cent of employed graduates had jobs related to their area of study (Athabasca University, p. 37). These statistics surprise me as my experience has taught me differently.

I know of a Physical Education major who works in the plumbing industry, a teacher running a business, and a political science major working in insurance. I meet these types of people all of the time. Likely, so do you. Is it possible that we meet the 14 per cent of the minority time and time again? I suppose it is, but it seems more likely that the statistics leave much unaccounted for.

My intention as I began writing this article was to discuss the job force and learn a little about life after graduation. I wanted to justify the challenges of a post-secondary degree. I found plenty of interesting numbers, but nothing of real substance. The stories I’ve heard and the ones I’ve got to tell justified the challenges. I fell back on my experiences to reassure me that the post-secondary grind was worth it, even if it doesn’t grant me the career I had originally intended.

The numbers oversimplify, but I feel like I’ve learned something. And like school, it may not come out as planned, but in the end it’s worth it.

“¢ Alberta Department of Advanced Education (2005). Alberta University and University College Graduate Employment Outcomes Survey. Retrieved from
“¢ Athabasca University. Annual Report 2003-2004. Retrieved from
“¢ Canada Department of Finance (2005, November). Chapter 4: Creating Opportunities for all Canadians. A plan for growth and prosperity. Retrieved from
“¢ Education is key factor in job market (2005, January 25). Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from
“¢ Sorensen, M. (2002, November). The class of 2000 two years after graduation: Results from the 2002 Alberta Universities and University Colleges’ Graduate Employment Survey. Prepared for Alberta Learning and Alberta’s Universities and University Colleges. Retrieved from

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