Why are you here?

Our universities in Manitoba are having trouble operating. Between inflation, tuition freezes, crumbling buildings, a bad economy and a host of other issues, it is amazing that our post-secondary institutions can even afford to open their doors. So what can be done about this? Well first off, we have to stop thinking that getting a bachelors degree will land us a job.

Of all the friends I have who got bachelor degrees, the only ones who have jobs in the field they studied are the teachers, nurses, social workers and engineers. Compare this to people I know who went to college, and the statistic is almost completely reversed. Universities are not job-training centres, they are brain-training centres, and if we don’t figure that out soon, they — and, by association, we — are screwed.

We seem to have an attitude in this country that people must attend university after graduating high school. This was certainly the mindset of my parents, who reminded me on an almost daily basis throughout grades 11 and 12 that “the only way to get a good job was to go to university.” From my experience, as explained above, this is simply not the case. But it is this belief that has packed our universities with aimless young people, while the trades lament that they do not have enough skilled professionals to satisfy demand.

These young adults, who attend university not because they wish to learn, but because they have been told that it is a necessary step toward prosperity, are probably not as concerned about the quality of education they receive, so long as it’s cheap and they get a degree at the end. It is my belief that low tuition fees benefit these people, and these people alone.

Tuition fee freezes mean that universities need to make compromises in order to stay open.

One of the ways universities can make money without raising tuition is to increase enrolment while keeping operating budgets as low as possible. This might be the reason why there are 13 intro psychology classes at the U of M (not including distance education or French), with a total of 2529 students enrolled — or more than 10 per cent of the entire undergraduate population — and an average class size of 194 students.

Another, and entirely more unsettling, solution to a tuition freeze is to form private partnerships. This could be as simple as signing a contract with Pepsi, saying that you won’t sell Coke on campus, or as complex — both in terms of the ethics involved and the relationship itself — as a research partnership.

People who are simply showing up to school for a piece of paper with the chancellor’s signature on it might not give two hoots about these kinds of compromises, but if you are in university with the goals of expanding your knowledge and learning how to think, this represents a serious problem, and you are being sold short.

For the arts student, it means that your university cannot afford to have reasonable class sizes. For the science student, it means that your lab’s equipment is not up to date, if you’re lucky enough to get a lab at all. But, perhaps most importantly, it means that when you graduate, regardless of what degree you get, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there with the same degree as you, further reducing its value.

It is for these reasons that I think we, as a society, need to reevaluate how we think about post-secondary education, and seriously think about raising tuition to a level that would allow universities to operate at their very best, simultaneously encouraging people who are merely seeking a job to think about college.

Now I’m not saying that university is for the elite and should be priced out of the grasp of everyday people. What I’m saying is that university isn’t for everybody, and that by treating it like it is we are doing everyone a disservice. We need to be more responsible in explaining to our young people, in no uncertain terms, the differences between college and university, stressing the fact that if their goal is to get a job, there is nothing wrong with attending college.

And just so you know that I’m not shouting from atop an ivory tower, I am among the people who went to university for a piece of paper. Don’t get me wrong — I’m proud of my bachelor of science, but the frame in which it currently sits is worth more than all the money it has earned me.

If I had a “do-over” I would have gone to college.