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Universities are already responding to the criticism that they are not preparing their students for the job market. My alma mater, the University of British Columbia, runs the Arts Tri-Mentoring Program where it matches students in the Faculty of Arts with alumni members who share the same the major. The program, now in its tenth year, requires mentors to meet with mentees at least four times during the school year, during which time everything from career goals to the job market to graduate schools is discussed. “The purpose of the program,” says Bonita Perko, the UBC alumni relations officer managing the program, “is to provide students an opportunity to transition from university to the working world.”
Mentors can take their mentees to their workplace to job shadow, facilitate informational interviews for their students, and invite students to industry-related events. The Arts mentoring program teaches students how to interview for jobs, present themselves at networking events, and write resumes and LinkedIn profiles. “Feedback from students in the past tends to be that they can’t believe how much they were able to learn from their alumni mentor,” says Perko.
University graduates can take comfort that, over time, those with degrees do make higher incomes than those with just a high school or college diploma. Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, stated in The Globe and Mail that “the basic premise that the value of a B.A. is not what it used to be is wrong.” In his research, based on census information, Davidson found that people with a basic undergraduate degree make $1.4 million more over their lifetime than those with no post-secondary education, and $1 million more than college grads.
Based on 2008 data, Statistics Canada found that the income of university graduates from Canadian universities was 70 percent higher than those with just a high school or vocational training diploma, and 63 percent higher in country members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
An October 2014 report released by the Research Universities’ Council of B.C. found that university students who graduated five years ago have a lower unemployment rate than the provincial average. The report looked at students who completed an undergraduate degree from the following B.C. universities: UBC, SFU, University of Victoria, UNBC, Royal Roads, and Thompson Rivers. It found that five years after graduation, the unemployment rate for these students was 4.7 per cent, well below the 2013 B.C. youth unemployment rate of 12.9 per cent, and below B.C.’s overall unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent.
Ultimately, we all know that earning a humanities degree doesn’t usher a person right into a well-paying job at the outset, in the same way that a degree in medicine, law or engineering might. Nor does a B.A. in anthropology mean that the student gets to work as an anthropologist. Much depends on how applicants present themselves to employers, where they look for work, and the kinds of positions they apply to. And let’s not forget – it’s also important who the applicant knows within an employer’s organization.
Tim McCready, who studied visual art and communication at the University of Windsor and has worked for Vice magazine and The Strombo Show on CBC, told the Toronto Star that the devaluing of an arts degree has nothing to do with the degree itself, and everything to do with the economy. “I don’t think it’s about the degree, it’s about wages going down, tuition going up,” he says. McCready, who’s been working in the arts for almost 10 years, says being aware of these hard realities just made him apply himself more diligently. “I’ve always known that [the arts] is where my strengths lie,” he says. “That’s why I busted my ass.”
Milton Kiang, B.A., LL.B. is a professional resume writer with Channel Resume Services and helps jobs applicants create powerful resumes, enabling them to win job interviews in a competitive job market.