Graduating into the current economy

Photo by Tammy Murray

Students graduating from post secondary institutions this year are facing some tough choices.  Get into the job market and try to find employment they can live on or remain in school and incur even more debt.

In spite of the many recent assertions by government that the economy is on the upswing, students are still feeling apprehensive.  Many have high student loan debt and are wondering how they’ll be able to pay off hundreds of dollars per month as well as day to day living expenses.

That’s assuming they can find a job at all.  This month’s Statistics Canada report states the summer student unemployment rate was the worst in more than 25 years.  

Katy Lee Benson is a fourth year student at St. Thomas University (STU).  Benson said job hunting this summer was difficult but she did eventually find work at her community’s museum.  

“… I live in a very small community which makes things even more difficult.”

Benson was able to work 40 hours per week for 10 weeks at the museum through a government employment program.

“If it weren’t for that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get one at all,” she said.

Benson was able to stay on at the museum for an extra week and a half, saying they scraped up enough money to pay her for the extra.  She said she would have taken more work if it was available.

Benson said financially she just couldn’t stay in the city, going home to her family was the better option, since she was able to save her earnings for her school year expenses.

“I didn’t have to pay rent or groceries because my parents are wonderful,” Benson said.

Katy Lee Benson studies on campus. Photo by Tammy L Murray

Benson expects she’ll be heading back home after graduation in May as well.

“If I go home, even if the job is shorter term, I can bank the majority of what I earn.  It just makes better financial sense.”

The Statistics Canada report also stated:

“In addition to a high unemployment rate, the average number of hours worked during the summer by students was the lowest since 1977, at 23.4 hours per week.” 

This translates to fewer dollars in students’ pockets and a higher debt load overall.  To make up for the shortfall students are relying more heavily on credit cards and bank lines of credit to help them make ends meet. 

Students like Benson are also choosing more education in spite of the increase to their debt load.  Melissa Munn graduated from STU in May and felt her Bachelor degree did little to make her employable.

“Being able to write a 15 page paper isn’t a skill listed for the majority of jobs out there.  I’ve found myself with little options for employment beyond what I could have done previous to my degree,” Munn said.

Munn decided to resume her studies in Nova Scotia even thought it meant leaving her family home to live on her own in an apartment. 

“I have decided to go back to school, at Mount Saint Vincent University, to get my Bachelor of Public Relations. This professional degree will train me for a specific job and the job placement rate within the industry at graduation is very high,” she said.

Rice Fuller is the director of counselling services at the University of New Brunswick (UNB).  The centre provides personal as well as career counselling for students of UNB and STU.  Fuller said clients are feeling the pressure of the economy.  He said some of the counsellors are hearing things such as “why even try, no one is hiring” from students who are frustrated with job hunting.

“In addition students who graduated this past spring do seem to be having difficulty finding full-time employment in their chosen fields,” Fuller said.

Benson said she could teach in the public school system after she graduates but she’s determined to achieve her Master’s degree.

“… so I think I would probably go and teach overseas for a couple years to pay off what I have and try and earn enough money to come back and get my masters.”