By Dave Lidstone
A survey of Maritime university graduates found that employment rates for recent grads are down.
Two Years On: A Survey of Class of 2007 Maritime University Graduates, covered students’ satisfaction with their education, finding employment and debt.
One major result was found in graduate employment rates — 86 per cent of students who graduated in 2007 were employed in 2009, whereas 95 per cent of grads who graduated in 2003 were employed in their fields by 2005.
This drop of nine percentage points is a key finding says Mireille Duguay, chief executive officer of the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission.
“I’m not going to qualify how big a deal it is … this (drop) probably had a lot to do with how well they were doing in the labour market … on the other hand we also know that whenever the economy takes a turn for the worse, those people who are just entering into the labour market are the ones that are first hit,” says Duguay.
Ipsos Reid, a survey-based marketing research firm, interviewed 3,380 Maritime grads between October 2009 and January 2010. Of that number, 1,702 first-degree graduates from 16 Maritime universities were analyzed for the purpose of this survey.
Tuesday morning at the Halifax World Trade and Convention Centre, Duguay lead a press conference for MPHEC to explain and discuss the results from the commission’s survey of Maritime university first-degree graduates.
MPHEC was founded in 1974 to help institutions and governments improve the quality of post-secondary education in the Maritimes.
Members of the commission are drawn from the three Maritime provinces and represent the regional universities, provincial governments and the general public, including students.
“Much of our work involves serving students better, although as you will note we do have no direct contact with students other than through our membership; therefore, admission is the way we achieve this primary consideration, through assisting and enhancing the post-secondary learning environment,” explains Duguay.
“Our follow-up survey program is one of the best ways we can do that.”
Some of the other findings reveal that half of graduates were satisfied with class sizes, while the other half were very satisfied.
One third reported their education transformed their ability to think independently and critically to some extent, whereas 63 per cent said those skills improved by a great extent.
“We’re pretty confident that our numbers are what they are and that students are satisfied with the experience they have received in the universities in the region,” says Duguay.
Compared to 2003’s results, this survey found an increase of six in 10 graduates who obtained their first degree only to return to university for an upgrade or second degree two years later. Duguay says this is due to a weak economy, describing it as unwelcoming compared to years past.
Students who graduated with degrees in liberal arts and sciences were more likely to return for another degree.
The transition into employment favours those graduates whose degrees are more labour market friendly, such as applied arts and applied sciences, commerce and administration programs.
“I was satisfied with how Saint Mary’s (University) set up the agendas and courses but there were only a select few profs who were actually positive influences on me. A lot of the Dalhousie profs just sorta’ thought we were only there cause we had to be, not ’cause we wanted to learn,” says Helen Denny, 22.
Denny, a biology and psychology graduate of Saint Mary’s University, graduated in 2009 only to find herself reapplying for nursing programs around the Maritimes several months later.
She is now enrolled in the accelerated nursing program at the University of Prince Edward Island.
“I went back ’cause I didn’t have enough experience to get a job. The amount of debt I took out I thought I could pay it back by working and the fact that I couldn’t find work within my degree forced me to find another career path,” says Denny.
When it comes to financing a degree MPHEC concludes that 70 per cent of all first degree holders borrowed from one or more sources to finance the 2007 degree.
On average the amount borrowed is around $30,767 from either a government funded student loan, a line of credit from a bank or through family members.
The survey shows that now more than ever before students rely on banks for financial assistance.
“The reality is that (banks) are available. They weren’t available 20 or 30 years ago. They were not available when I went to school,” Duguay says.
Overall, Duguay contests that “graduates are transformed by their education, graduates are satisfied with their educational experience. To us it’s evidence of the level of quality delivered by Maritime universities and those stats have been stable over the years.”
Despite the findings of the survey, debt levels and diversification of loan sources are rising, employment rates are lower and graduates of liberal arts and sciences are more likely to continue studying after their first degree, causing an increase in debt and time spent in school.