April 14, 2011

Should schools be in the business of turning out employable grads?

That is the subtitle of an recent article in Maclean's. In it, higher education professionals, including Mount Allison President Robert Campbell, discucuss the apparently newsworthy focus on a return on investment in higher education. Campbell says,

“We have a higher proportion of students whose parents went to university, and we see and hear from them more,” says Robert Campbell, president of Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Many, he says, “are looking for a return on investment” in their child’s tuition. And, for the most part, they get it: university grads in 2005 had median annual earnings of $45,000 two years later, compared to $33,000 for college grads, according to a Statistics Canada report. 

I would argue it's not a new thing for students to go to University to get a job. Yes, maybe competition is higher but it seems only the super-rich or super-lazy (one stereotype of liberal-arts students) go to school just to learn. Getting ahead in life is about having the right credentials. With some exceptions I could probably learn everything I've learned so far at Mount Allison (at least in class) by reading books. But I come to school and do four years of hard work to get credit for displaying that knowledge through exams and papers.

Something that is news to me is that Mount Allison does not track it's graduates to determine if their education paid off.
Over on the East Coast, the Maritime provinces’ Higher Education Commission tracks graduates’ employment rates and other data. In 2009, its latest report shows, 81 per cent of employed graduates from the class of 2007 were working full-time, and 75 per cent of them said their degree helped them get the job “to some or great extent.” But individual schools don’t necessarily keep their own figures. “We probably could track them better,” says Campbell, chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities. Mount Allison, he adds, is starting to track its grads now.

It's surprising that Mount Allison didn't start tracking graduates years ago, but I'm glad they have started this year. Every single school I applied to in the US bragged about the percentage of its graduates engaged in either full time work in their field or further education. The University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs releases detailed results from their alumni surveys to the public. I would think this would be incredibly useful in student recruitment for Mount Allison, as undoubtedly the information would substantiate the anecdotal examples included in the Alumni Magazine and on the website.

While an undergraduate degree is a basic requirement for any jobs I would be interested in, a Master's is not...and it can be incredibly expensive. However, the Evan's school Class of 2010 Master of Public Administration (MPA) Employment Report does a really good job in convincing potential students that getting a Master's from the Evans can be worth the investment.

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