The million dollar promise – will you actually earn more with a university degree?

In the 1970’s, only ten
percent of the population went to university. Today, that number is around 40
percent. According to one professor at the University of Saskatchewan, the reason
for the increase over the past forty years has to do more with economics than a
desire for higher learning. Ken Coates, the Canada Research Chair in regional
innovation says the overwhelming majority of students decide to go to
university for the higher earning potential.

“Universities are
basically advertising that you will earn $1 million more, or $1.3 million
dollars more – $1 million more than a college graduate if you go to university
and get a university degree,” Coates said, meaning a university degree is
supposed to pay off.

In fact, the University of
Regina often cites a study by the Conference Board of Canada that university
graduates will earn 27 thousand dollars more a year on average than those who
don’t have a degree, but that figure might be misleading. The number doesn’t
include those who failed to complete their studies and depending on the degree
itself, some graduates will see a very large return on investment, while others
might not make much more than someone with a high school diploma.

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Halena Sieferling, a fifth
year International studies major at the U of R is concerned she might fall into
the latter category. She will soon graduate and she’s wondering if the field
she chose will allow her to pay the bills.

“I think it would be
lovely if a University of Regina education was enough, but we’ll see if that’s
the case.” She says if she can’t find paying work with the degree she chose,
she would consider returning to university or going to a college to do
something else.

“You might have been
better off if your parents had said out of high school, ‘Here’s $40,000 – start
a business.’ But my point is that people should think critically. University is
a critical part of the package for literally hundreds of thousands of students
a year, but it’s also really not a good choice for a pretty large number as
well,” said Coates.

He suggests we’ve oversold
the financial return of a university degree and undersold the personal return.
There are many reasons to pursue higher education, but will you make more
money? The best anyone can guarantee is maybe. He says in Canada, between 10
and 20 percent of graduates are unemployed, while 30 percent are underemployed,
posing a “serious problem” – namely, leaving school saddled in debt. 

Ending up in the red is
one of the major concerns for Canadian Federation of Students Saskatchewan
representative, Kent Peterson.

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“Students are graduating
with more and more debt every year. They’re carrying that debt further in life.
It delays purchasing a vehicle, and a house and all those types of things that
up until quite recently were very easy for university graduates to do,”
Peterson said.

As both the U of S and U
of R currently face budget cuts, students might begin to reconsider the actual
value of their education.  However, the
university says there is more to consider than just the financial value of your

“The other benefit of a
university education is what goes on when you’re having it and that is being
part of creating and sharing knowledge, becoming part of a whole cultural
environment, developing leadership skills,” said Barb Pollock, Vice-President
of External Relations for the U of R.

For Sieferling, though,
her university experience is about having the tools to change the world, even
if that doesn’t land her a high-paying career.

“I mean yeah, I’m not
confident that this degree is going to prepare me to pay off the debt and make
money, but I didn’t take it for that reason.”