High schools fail to prepare students for the real world

Positive attitudes toward university masks issues of employability and dropout rates

There’s a common stereotype that carries an underlying horrible truth with many university students.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario come out of three to four years of university with an undergraduate degree each year, only to find there are no jobs in their field of study.

You know the type; a bartender with a sociology degree, a barista with a history degree, or a cashier working on their PhD.

Other students may drop out, some change their degree path to different programs, while some people end up extending their program beyond the expected completion date. 

For those who do graduate, many are forced to either take their talents to another line of work, or stay unemployed and, consequently, unable to support themselves financially.

A large and rarely discussed reason for this is that young adults are simply taking subjects they’re unprepared for and going into fields with low employability rates, or programs that are too competitive and exclusive for them. 

It’s impossible to nail down the exact cause for this, seeing that university selection differs for every student. However, I’d reckon choice of one’s field is often heavily influenced by the overly positive, propaganda-like presentation of the university experience in high schools.

While we see the issue of overqualified unemployment of young people on a daily basis, are enough people asking why

Why is money spent on degrees that fail to produce relevant employment? Why are graduate degrees necessary to enter into so many lines of work that weren’t required before?

My experience in a mid-sized Toronto high school don’t speak for every student, but I’d imagine the presentations making their way around the province and the country tend to have some overarching uniting factors.

While college presentations and alternative career paths that don’t require a post-secondary degree are mentioned, many schools push getting into and eventually graduating from university as the ideal route for the young adults on the brink of a life-changing decision. There’s a narrative of ‘go to school and take what interests you, and you’ll eventually come out with a job’ that’s presented to these young students.

For a lot of us, this simply ends up not being true. 

In addition to the heavily-researched racialized, gendered, and identity-biased hiring processes, the selection and ultimate completion of a major in university tends to have a strong correlation with one’s job prospects when finished their schooling.

This disparity between post-university success of differing majors is a concept mocked in Orientation Week chants and in day-to-day interfaculty relations. It’s something that many people simply choose to laugh at because there’s almost no other option.

Maybe a time and place existed where this was the case, but job processes have shifted greatly since many of the high school administrators and teachers were in the same position.

Don’t believe it?

I’ve got a friend who’s in the last year of a four-year journalism degree, with several appearances on the Dean’s List, and looking for a job completely out of the industry. I’ve got cousins who are both working across the country in the service industry because their degrees in anthropology and kinesiology are hiring very selectively. Additionally, a life sciences major working a contract job for a university.

These are just a few examples of people I know who’ve fallen victim to this cycle, but it’s a problem many students who enter university are privy to.

Simply going to school and working hard in a subject you liked in Grade 12 often isn’t enough to get a job in a field specific to it. 

So let’s stop pushing a narrative that it is. 

According to Stats Canada, around 70 per cent of all graduates with a bachelor’s degree, aged 24, and under currently have full-time work.

Many students rely heavily on their high schools to provide them the information for university. For some, it’s the sole source.

And this information is typically quite positive and straightforward: dates, forms, scholarship applications, and resources of how to apply to a school are given over and over to Grade 12 students. 

We’re readily handed opportunities for guided tours and told about a university’s admission process in detail — that’s not where the problem lies. Failing to present the information of the potential negative consequences in the job hunt or other barriers of picking a particular subject is akin to lying by omission and that’s where the issues arise.

It’s a harmful practice with very real effects. 

High schools should be updating their information annually, not sticking to old-school beliefs about employment and the university experience. 

The worst part? It’s totally unnecessary. 

Though they share many of the same students, high schools should serve as a facilitator of information to students, good or bad. These institutions shouldn’t be a place where very real stories of post-graduate unemployment or dropout rates are hidden and silenced by the cultural beliefs that if you go to school you’ll get a job in your field.

Solving these problems won’t solely be corrected by the way high schools receive their university presentations, or by a shift in standard guidance counselling.

But if we keep presenting only the positive aspects of university and mask the issues that students face, high schools will continue to facilitate wholly false beliefs.

Adam Laskaris is a fourth-year Political Studies major.

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