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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

It's time education consumers were enabled to make informed decisions

Two years ago university tuition fees in Canada averaged about $5,366 a year and students in B.C. who took out a student loan to finance their education began their working life with a debt of nearly $27,000.

Unfortunately all too often these students receive little or no information about the demand there is for the program in which they are studying.  As a result over supply and under supply issues abound, all at tremendous waste of both student and taxpayer dollars.

So for example in 2010 1,861 new education grads were certified by the B.C. College of Teachers, with another 824 out-of-province teachers certified thanks to a then new inter-provincial agreement. That means nearly 2,700 new teachers to B.C. when only about 1,000 teachers are needed annually.

In contrast the media has reported at various times about a growing shortage of nurses here in British Columbia.  Yet when students are in high school they are not provided with up to date information about what their job prospects would be as a nurse versus as a teacher.
Similarly there is also a lack of information regarding the job and income prospects of not just those debating studying fine arts versus engineering but those considering becoming a welder versus a carpenter.

This lack of information results not only in students wasting their time and money but also in government wasting its money and finding itself with a surplus of qualified applicants in one area (education) and shortages in another (health care).  It also means that other inefficiencies go unreported.  For example in nursing it is now a two year program to become and LPN and a four year program to become an RN.

One would logically think that if an LPN wished to upgrade from an LPN to an RN there would be an abundance of programs designed to facilitate this transition when in fact there are none.  So an LPN who already has two years of education and perhaps half a dozen years of nursing experience will receive no credit for either and will instead have to start back at square one on a four year program to become an RN, as a result few LPNs become RNs.

What an incredible waste of opportunity as well as resources.  When it comes to skilled trades again there is a lack of information available to students as to how about getting their ticket, as well as a relative lack of shop classes in our public school system.

By providing education consumers with adequate information they can make better choices.  As better informed consumers, students will also help ensure that post secondary institutions do a better job of matching the supply of programs and courses with actual real world demand.

In 2013 the top ten careers were:

  1. Financial Managers and Accountants
  2. Skilled Tradespeople
  3. Software and mobile app developers
  4. Registered Nurses
  5. Psychologists, social workers and counsellors
  6. Medical Technicians
  7. Human Resource Managers
  8. Pharmacists
  9.  Audiologists, speech therapists and physiotherapists
  10. Construction Managers


At the other end of the scale there is currently perhaps no worse a career to embark on than journalism.  Not only are jobs drying up so too are the salaries.  Yet in British Columbia nearly every college, technical institute and university still offers a journalism program.  It is at this point I should mention for the record that I graduated way back in 1989 with a degree in Economics, but I digress.

The point is that you as a consumer would not take out a loan for $27,000 on a car if you had no idea about its gas mileage, performance or reliability.  Yet all too often we expect students to make choices with far too little information.  Every program should have with it information about what the employment rate is after one year, five years and ten years and what the average income level is over those same time periods.

It doesn't mean we won't have any more English lit majors, it just means we will have fewer of them struggling to pay off student loans while working as baristas.  Conversely we will likely have more students interested in becoming skilled tradepersons, construction managers and the like.  Government will have less of its money wasted training young people for jobs that no longer exists while business will thrive because supply will better fit demand in terms of the job market.

Michael Geoghegan is the Executive Director of COCTA and a government relations consultant (lobbyist) based in Victoria BC  He can often be seen providing political commentary on CTV News Channel.



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