Why Attending University Still Matters

By Justin P. Goodrich, LL. M.

In recent years I have heard time and time again that attending university just isn’t worth it.  Indeed, it seems that there is an ever-growing sentiment that attending a post-secondary institution – especially if pursuing something in the area of the humanities or social sciences – will leave you unemployed and burdened with debt.

As someone who is passionate about post-secondary education – myself holding a masters law degree and serving as a provincial appointee on the Board of Governors of a local university – I cannot help but feel disheartened by these sentiments.  I am disheartened in part because – as you will see in the later half of my column – these sentiments are drastically overstated.  However, what is even more disheartening is the notion that attending university is all about getting a job.  That it is nothing more than a means to an end.  The reality is, nothing could be further from the truth.

Though attending university does help ones chances to secure employment and develop the potential for greater, long-term personal income, university is about so much more.  For those students who opt to engage their university experience determined to go outside their comfort zone and push themselves beyond their usual norms they can quickly discover the benefits that go hand-in-hand with exploring their own personal development.

From being challenged to think critically and thus being forced to state why they believe something (that is to say, to provide reason, logic and at time even empirical data), to being encouraged to listen and to discuss different points of view (and learning how to respectfully disagree), to taking advantages of unique opportunities geared specifically for students, to building networks and even friendships (some of which will undoubtedly last a lifetime), the whole point of attending university is about growing as an individual.

For The Record…

I stated at the beginning of my column that the negative sentiments regarding the value of a university education – in particular one focused on the humanities and the social sciences – are drastically overstated.  To that end, allow me now to share some statistics that may surprise you.

The first statistic that might surprise you is that between March 2008 and March 2016, 1.4 million new jobs were created for university graduates – almost triple as many new jobs for college and trades graduates combined.  Turning now to those who have undergraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences, it might further surprise you to learn that the majority of those graduates earn, on average, above $65,000 annually.  Moreover, 55% of current professional leaders across 30 countries have higher education qualifications in the arts.

In addition to the employment and financial benefits that come from having a university degree, let us now turn to some of the benefits I spoke of earlier that go beyond ‘getting a degree to get a job.’

By attending a university students learn a whole host of soft-skills.  From critical thinking skills – the single greatest attribute employers are looking for – to organizational, research and communications skills, universities are about educating the whole person.  Moreover, universities provide students the opportunity to gain meaningful experiences that can lead to successful employment.

For example, 80% of employers surveyed say co-op and internship students are a source of new talent and potential future employees; this perhaps explaining why enrollment in co-op programs at universities has jumped by 25% in recent years from 53,000 students in 2006 to 65,000 students in 2013.  In fact, experiential learning itself allows for upwards of 55% of undergraduate students to benefit from co-op, internships and service learning.  It is these opportunities that then lend themselves to helping secure long-term, meaningful employment as employers look for well-rounded, experienced individuals who can demonstrate a broad-range of skills.

Of course, there are those without university degrees who have gone on to succeed and I do not want to take anything away from those individuals; though, admittedly, I cringe when they wear it as a badge of honor and suggest to others that attending university is unnecessary.  The reality is, though there are those who have gone on to achieve great success without a university education, they are the exception to the rule.  Thus, as the world continues to face a broad range of economic, social and environmental challenges (to name only a few), now more than ever we need a generation of critical thinkers with the academic background to take-on the tasks that await us.

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