University grads: more school, more debt

Survey says Maritime students spend more time, money on education to get jobs

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Matthew Jones and his student loan bill. (Photo: Heather Gillis)

Matthew Jones graduated from Dalhousie University with an undergraduate degree in biology and French last April. But he's burdened with student debt and still doesn't have a job.

"I don't know if (my degree) has made me employable," he says.

A report released this week by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC) mirrors the trends in post-secondary education that Jones is experiencing.

According to "Two Years On: A Survey of Class of 2007 Maritime University Graduates," they have more student debt, a lower rate of employment, and over half of the students have had to continue their education in order to find a decent job.

About the survey:

This survey was conducted between October 2009 and January 2010.

The margin of error ±2.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Click to Enlarge This chart shows the total amount of student loan debt owed in 2009 for a 2007 degree. This is based upon 755 N.S graduates of 2007. (Chart: Tim van der Kooi)

The survey says that the average price of student debt in 2007 was $37,013 after graduation. That is almost $5,000 higher than the Alliance of Nova Scotia Students Association's (ANSSA) last official statistic. In April, ANSSA reported that students owed an average of $31,900 in debt after completing an undergraduate degree.

This isn't exactly that surprising considering Nova Scotia has one of the highest tuition rates in the country. The average cost of one term at a university in Nova Scotia is $5,696 -- almost $800 above the national average according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

The survey also states that one-third of respondents reported carrying a debt of $45,000 or more after graduation.

Kirsten Sutherland has a lot of student debt.

Sutherland graduated from Dalhousie University in 2004 with a bachelor of science in kinesiology. She came out of school with about $20,000 of debt. But after completing a second degree in chiropractory from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto last spring, she now owes approximately $150,000 in student loans.

The CFS fears that higher levels of student debt and tuition rates will create an access problem - meaning that students who want to go back to school may not be able to due to a lack of funds.

Jones says that he owes the government $18,000 in student loans. Even though his number is lower than what the average student owes, he doesn't have a job right now to pay it off.

Unemployment

"Jobs simply aren't there when you're coming out of your undergrad," said Gabe Hoogers, a CFS representative.

That's why Jones is in the process of applying for a masters degree in environmental studies at Dalhousie. He hopes that he will have an easier time breaking into the workforce by going back to school.

"The big draw for me is that it basically prepares you for work. You can do internships and continue on with a company in the sector where you do your internship." He says he'll also have to finance this degree with student loans.

"I'll have to incur more debt. Woohoo," he said with a laugh.

Like Sutherland and Jones, sixty per cent of the class of 2007 said they have to pursue further education to get a job in their field.

The next MPHEC survey on how students are fairing after graduation will be released in 2012.

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