By Rosemary Counter - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - 0 Comments
The gap year was once for sowing wild oats before university. Now, post-degree, it’s about getting a job
University of Guelph undergrad Casey Panning, now 24, was sitting in a Southeast Asian geography class when it occurred to her that she might never see Asia. With vague plans to teach geography, and inspired by a friend who’d spent a semester in Singapore, Panning knew it was now or never.
The gap year—taking a year off school to work, travel or volunteer—has been a pre-university rite of passage in Europe, where it began in Britain in the ’60s and spread to other Commonwealth countries—including Canada. A Statistics Canada survey of about 8,500 high school graduates from 2000 to 2008 found that just 50 per cent had started college or university within the usual three months; 73 per cent had begun in a year’s time; and by 28 months after graduation, 81 per cent of students were attending a post-secondary school.
By Josh Dehaas - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
From webcams to Facebook petitions, schools find new ways to keep the coffee flowing and lines moving
After polling his peers last fall, Adam Oran, who represents Human Kinetics students for the University of Windsor Student Alliance, knew which policy to pursue. He started a Facebook page called “Lets Get a Timmies in HK,” referring to their building, a 15-minute walk from the nearest Tim Hortons coffee outlet.
Within a week, 150 people liked the page; by February, 390 had joined. Talks with campus officials are now under way, says Oran. When constituents stop to ask how their Tim’s is coming, he’s proud to report that management has been receptive.
Oran wasn’t the first to make such a petition. A Facebook page demanding a better Tim Hortons for Mount Royal University in Calgary in 2010 noted long lines and lack of variety at the campus kiosk. The page got more than 700 likes by the time Brent Mann, general manager for the school’s food-service provider, Sodexo, posed for photos for the school newspaper with a shovel in hand, turning the sod on the bigger and better location. Continue…
By Josh Dehaas - Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
Universities are good at imparting knowledge, but most fail when it comes to teaching students how to get a job
Mike St. Jean is in his seventh year of political science at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. “I still don’t even know what I can do with my degree,” he says. “I can get a job in government or elections, but other than that, the transition seems hard to lay out. I read books and analyze them. What does that mean to the real world?”
It’s not as if it hit him suddenly. The question “What’s next?” is one of the reasons he dropped down to part-time studies in year four of his degree. Another reason was that he needed time for his part-time job and his work with the Argus student newspaper, where he’s now an editor.
Lakehead’s counsellors haven’t helped. He only visited them once, years ago, and was told to consider a master’s in English or an education degree. “I don’t know how many jobs there are for teachers,” he says. What he does know is that a friend who took education moved to England because she couldn’t find work here. A master’s didn’t strike him as a good plan, either; he’s seen multiple master’s graduates and one Ph.D. apply for low-wage jobs at the Subway where he works. Professors are encouraging, but they don’t offer career advice. His parents want to help, but “they think university is about curing cancer and rocket science,” he says. “They have no idea what I’m in.”
Ashley Teo, a fourth-year student in economics and psychology at the University of Toronto, has a clearer plan. Her sights are set on management consulting and she has an impressive resumé geared toward that, including a volunteer position at the Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund and an internship with the Queen’s University Office of Global Health in Tanzania. She wants to go straight to work after graduation, so at the beginning of the school year, she went to the career centre.
By the time she found out—from friends, not the centre—that businesses were recruiting, the process was already underway. Had she not been proactive, she wouldn’t have known that the big companies were hiring in September 2012 for jobs starting in September 2013. Like St. Jean, she says no one on campus is teaching students much about careers. “All the talks I get from my professors are about applying to grad school,” she says, “not about getting jobs.”
Just about any professor will tell you universities aren’t meant to help students get jobs. Many echo Sean Lyons, a business professor at the University of Guelph, who describes a university’s mission. “We’re there to develop longer-term competencies: critical thinking, analytical skills, intellectual growth.” But where Lyons differs from many professors is that he—like many people who deal with students outside the university—says the university should do a better job showing students the path from school to work. “We don’t send clear signals to our students about what they can expect when they graduate,” he says. “We’re setting them up for failure.”
One way universities fail students is by contributing to the myth that most undergraduate degrees lead to high-paying jobs. Research published by Lyons and research partners in 2011 showed most students are delusional about how much money they will earn within five years of graduation—women expect $68,000 and men anticipate $85,000. It’s not until they get their first job offers that they realize entry-level pay is more like $40,000. He says the expectation gap is partly the fault of recruiters. “Every program has someone who graduates and makes $70,000 going out the door. It’s rare but it happens,” he says. “You tell that story when recruiting.”
He says the solution is a combination of better-informed parents, more support services on campus and frank discussion with professors during classes. “I’d like to see something in all first-year university courses with the message, ‘This is what your career path’s likely to look like.’ ”
It’s not just future pay and job prospects that many students are clueless about. It’s also the mechanics of getting jobs: how to network, how to write cover letters and how recruiting works.
York University’s career centre is a bustling office dedicated to helping students ﬁnd their ideal careers. The centre offers at least 18 workshops, individual appointments, career fairs, job listings and networking events.
But only to those who find it. The career centre’s location—at the end of a labyrinth of brick hallways many minutes from the centre of campus where students eat, shop and socialize—is the first clue that career planning is an afterthought. And not just at York University: only 31 per cent of graduating students nationwide said they used career services on campus, according to the 2012 report by the Canadian University Survey Consortium, a non-profit network of universities which polls thousands of undergraduate students each year.
On a recent visit to York’s career centre, Liz Cook can be found teaching a cover letter-writing workshop to 25 students. She’s drilling into them something that would seem basic to those already in the workforce: each job application warrants a new cover letter. It’s a surprise to some. The good news, according to centre director Julie Rahmer, is that more students are asking for help with this stuff, and earlier than before. The bad news is there aren’t enough resources to offer career counselling to all first-year students. This cover-letter workshop is one of the busier ones Cook has given—and there are 55,000 students at York.
Jacquie Ison, a Toronto mother, noticed the need for career guidance among her daughter’s friends and turned it into a business two years ago. Great Gig Student Jobs helps university students and recent graduates figure out their career goals, then sets them up with interviews for entry-level work. It costs $300 to get started and $1,400 more when students land paid jobs at a partner company. Ison says the lack of career preparation is shocking. One master’s graduate wanted an employer to give her five extra days to prepare for an interview. “I said, ‘After five days, the position will be gone,’ ” Ison recalls. “She lost out on two possibilities because she wasn’t ready to go.” She says every college and university student should get six months of instruction in job-search techniques from their schools.
Robert Luke, the assistant vice-president of research and innovation at George Brown College in Toronto, says the failure to show students which skills they need for the current job market is contributing to Canada’s lagging productivity. “We have a lot of jobs in this country for which we don’t have people,” he says. A recent Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce report suggests much the same: there’s a shortage of workers in areas such as health care, natural resources extraction and plumbing—despite an overall unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent in January.
Luke says the culture of universities is partly to blame. “A lot of university people say, ‘It’s not our job to educate for jobs,’ ” but to build better citizens. “In my world, citizenship includes getting a job and paying taxes,” he says.
Luke thinks career counselling should start “from day one” and that each program should have clearly articulated outcomes so students can decide whether their degrees are worthy investments. When students start degrees, someone needs to tell them, “‘Here’s the type of job you can expect to get and here’s the rate of pay you can expect.’ ”
The good news, in his view, is that students are gaining skills; they just don’t know how to apply them to the current job market. He uses St. Jean at Lakehead as an example: he has probably picked up communication skills that would work in business. “If you want to pitch a business, you’ve got 30 seconds and that means you’ve got to synthesize a lot of information and communicate it,” he says.
St. Jean may indeed be suited for business. He becomes animated when he talks of how the Argus cut printing costs; the challenges of adding a correspondent at the Orillia, Ont., campus; and the successful presentation he made to the student union to have funding renewed. In fact, business is something he’s flirted with. “I have a couple friends who did business degrees,” he says. “They’re my age and they got jobs and bought houses, but I’m still dangling along, not knowing where to go.”
By Andrew Stobo Sniderman - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
Dalhousie takes kinder approach if students are arrested
University offers most students their first real taste of freedom from home and family, including the freedom to do stupid and illegal things. Even good students can become drunken criminals.
This year, Dalhousie University unveiled a restorative justice program for students charged with relatively minor criminal offences. The university hopes to address crime without large fines or the prospect of a criminal record. It is Canada’s most ambitious effort by a university to get involved in criminal justice for its students. Other schools seem less keen to follow. Should universities act when students commit crimes off campus?
Fresh-faced undergraduates not infrequently find themselves teetering in a public place with open bottles of booze in front of unimpressed police ofﬁcers. It happens. Indeed, it happened to hundreds of students at Dalhousie University last year. Each received a ﬁne of $457.41. Those who were careless enough to damage property received the distinction of criminal records. Continue…
By the editors - Monday, September 19, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Universities and parents have a duty to educate kids about the dangers of alcohol abuse
Some predictions can be made with absolute certainty. The tides will shift. The sun will rise. And young university students will drink to excess.
From Tom Brown’s Schooldays to Animal House, exuberant drinking by underage students has long been a part of the experience of going away to school. Realistically, there is little society can do to change this fact of life. But what can we all do to cut down on the harm it may cause?
Last week, Canada’s university community was shocked by an orientation-week death at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. A first-year student from Calgary, just 19 years old, was found unconscious in a basement dorm room at the school suffering from severe alcohol poisoning. He later died in hospital. Fellow students told reporters he’d been playing a competitive drinking game called “flip cup” and had consumed an estimated 40 ounces of alcohol during the night.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 3 Comments
Ignatieff doesn’t support a per-student funding model
Nova Scotia’s universities want more federal cash. The province is a net importer of university students—students from the rest of the country who go there to attend schools outnumber Nova Scotians who leave to study elsewhere. The student populations at two Nova Scotia universities, St. Francis Xavier and Acadia, are made up of 40 per cent or more out-of-province students, and more than half of the student body at Dalhousie University comes from outside Nova Scotia. “The amount of funding that the province of Nova Scotia receives from the feds is less than what we require to adequately fund the students that are here,” says Ken Burt, vice-president of finance at Halifax’s Dalhousie.
Canadian universities receive federal transfer funding on a per capita basis, which doesn’t factor in how many students from other provinces are studying there. Instead, those students are counted in their own province’s census, so federal money that should account for them actually goes to their home province. For years, academics and politicians from Nova Scotia have been calling for a per-student model of funding instead, but it’s a difficult fight.