So you think that your Arts & Science undergraduate degree means less than it did 10, 20, or 40 years ago? In some ways, it does. Increasing numbers of students are enrolling in graduate programs to give them that extra edge in the job market. But this doesn’t mean that your undergraduate degree isn’t going to get you where you want to go or be the incredible experience that some argue it no longer is.
Yes, the job market is harder, and people with graduate degrees do have a better go at it. This has always been true and holds true now. However, as an undergraduate, the piece of paper that you receive upon graduation is a $1.4 million distinction from high school graduates. Over a lifetime, university graduates stand to make this much more than those with only high school diplomas on average, and over a million more than college graduates.
There is an unprecedented number of undergraduates enrolling in universities across Ontario this fall. As such, Ontario universities are under the gun and they have to substantiate their degrees’ and students’ worth to parents, the government, and most importantly, students.
To do this, some universities have developed trial curricula that include “real world” skills like writing a killer resume or advanced critical analysis. Transferable skills that employers value are in high demand. Given that the vast majority of students surveyed by the 39-member Canadian University Survey Consortium cited a job being their number one reason for attending university, job skills should be, and are becoming, a greater aspect of the curriculum.
McMaster President Patrick Deane commented to The Globe and Mail, “You don’t want to equip students to be bankers; you want to equip them to do whatever they might be inclined to do.” Education reform is an ongoing discussion within the academic sphere, one that has received a lot of attention from students, parents, and the administration alike.
An undergraduate degree’s value isn’t necessarily limited to the prestige it holds in society; rather, its value is in the experience that undergrads are taking away from it. In introducing new programs that limit the number of students in the classroom, students are walking away with a more comprehensive and rewarding degree.
From personal experience, the best classes I’ve ever been in have been seminar-style where the students can actually engage with the discussion, one another, and the professor. They are also more challenging because they really require you to be able to think on your feet and have something to offer the discussion.
It’s true that an undergraduate degree doesn’t mean what it used to and isn’t perceived as such; there are so many more students graduating with them, and there’s been a 70 per cent increase in students enrolling in graduate studies between 1999 and 2009. However, Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, stated in The Globe and Mail that a fact that is often overlooked “is the creation of more than 300,000 new jobs for university graduates in the recent recession compared to the loss of 430,000 jobs for those without post-secondary education.”
Statistics Canada in 2009 revealed that people with Canadian university degrees had an 82 per cent employment rate for the age range of 25–64 in contrast to the 55 per cent of those who hadn’t acquired their high school diploma.
In light of the growing concern over the value of an undergraduate degree, MyEducationHasValue.ca has been launched. The website aims to enlighten students on not only the long-term financial and career benefits of a university education but also the more philosophical rewards of a bachelors degree — its ability to expand and inspire adolescent minds.
The bachelor degree is more than just a launch pad to a better degree. It’s the means to cultivating higher academic thought and critical thinking. If it isn’t enough that it’s not the be-all and end-all of academic achievement, at least revel in the fact that it provides a privileged and enjoyable experience.