When it comes to finding good jobs, university degrees are an asset, according to a new study that tracks how students have done in the work force after graduating from British Columbia's six research universities.
The study by the Research Universities' Council of B.C. shows a high success rate for the students who graduated during the five years examined, from 2008 to 2012. The findings pour cold water on recent concerns that degrees aren't as useful as they once were.
Using data collected by BC Stats, the central statistical agency for the province, the study found that two years after earning their degree "the vast majority of students … are finding good jobs and earning good salaries."
More than 92 per cent of the B.C. university graduates were working, mostly in their chosen profession, and only about 2 per cent of those had jobs in the trades.
For the class of 2012, which was the most recent graduating group studied, the median salary was $50,000. By comparison, the average wage for a young person without a university degree was $30,400.
The study shows that graduates in health fields had the highest mean salary, at $66,560, followed closely by engineering graduates, who were earning an average of $62,000 a year.
"In the past, some critics have said the kinds of skills and knowledge acquired attending university are not necessarily beneficial to an economy that puts a higher value on specific, technical skills," the study states. "However, 83 per cent of graduates from all six research universities believe their degrees are useful to their jobs. This belief is supported by the survey which finds that 61 per cent of business students were working in finance and 85 per cent of students with health-related degrees were in the health sector."
Arts and science graduates were distributed across a range of jobs, with the largest groups working in social science, education or government (31 per cent) or business and finance (25 per cent).
The study also showed that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of graduates from regional universities – such as the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George and Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops – got work in those areas.
Last year, Premier Christy Clark said B.C. needed to shift the focus of its postsecondary institutions to better reflect the needs of the private-sector job market. She said too many students were graduating with degrees that wouldn't lead to employment and last summer the government poured $75-million into new trades training programs.
But Andrew Petter, the president of Simon Fraser University, said the study shows that universities have in fact been doing a good job of graduating students who are job ready.
"I think what's significant is it shows having a university education in British Columbia is very helpful in terms of not only securing employment but also of gaining employment that produces good income," Mr. Petter said. "It also shows that there's a high degree of correspondence between the skills and educational attainments that students get while at university."
He said universities haven't been blind to the needs of the private sector and over recent years have developed programs that are better suited to the job market.
"We have been very responsive as universities to market demand. There's been a major shift within universities programmatically," he said. "And in addition universities today offer very extensive co-op programs."
Mr. Petter said getting a university degree doesn't guarantee anybody a job, but the study shows that graduating does have tangible career rewards.
"I think it's always the case that some people who graduate from university don't immediately get employment. But I think what these figures show is that a large number who do graduate certainly get good employment within two years and are successful," Mr. Petter said.
The Research Universities' Council of B.C. represents the six universities that were the subject of the study, but Mr. Petter said the research was objective.
"This study is based on information from BC Stats. This is government information. All we've really done is taken the information that government produces based on surveys they do of students two years out and bring it together around the institutions," he said.
British Columbia's six research universities are SFU, UNBC, Thompson Rivers University, the University of B.C., the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University.