Editorial: Don’t be 22 and broke

Sam Colbert
February 14, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

I had a friend in high school named Jack. His grades were good; he got mid- to high-80s in most of his classes.

His teachers (and I) encouraged him to apply to university. But he didn’t. He didn’t apply to college either. After he graduated, he started work with his brother at a contracting company.

I had another friend, Ben. His grade 12 average was in the mid-70s. He applied to a few schools, and was accepted to a liberal arts program at Western.

Ben failed out of third year and didn’t go back. He now lives with his parents, has $8,000 in student debt and is looking for work.

Jack just made a down payment on a house.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives released a policy paper on Tuesday that called for high school students to consider alternatives to university. It pointed out that more students enter college after completing at least some post-secondary education elsewhere than students who enter college immediately after high school.

“We need to encourage students to seek the least expensive and most employable programs first and foremost,” it said.

In other words, forget the Liberal Party’s “If you get the grades, you get to go” slogan. If you don’t like big class sizes, theory-based classes or major student debt loads, maybe you shouldn’t go to university.

This is not to discount the good work being done by advocacy groups to improve undergraduate teaching and boost experiential education. Nor is it to disregard the important criticisms of the PC paper’s statements on student loan incentives, which are now being addressed by students unions (and by contributor Jeff Doucet in this week’s Opinions section).

Universities can certainly do better. But the onus of employability falls to us students, too.

An undergrad is an opportunity. It’s four(ish) years to figure out who you are and what you want. You can get to know people worth knowing and try out some interesting stuff.

But unless you’re in Nursing or Engineering, there’s no real guarantee that your degree will lead to a well-paying job in your field of study.

I don’t regret attending McMaster. (Not yet, at least.) And I’m not saying you should, either.

Just know why you’re here, and take some responsibility for what’s going to happen to you after you leave.

Knowing what I know now, my advice to my friend Jack would have been different. Here’s to hoping it all works out well for both of us.

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