Wage premiums plummet for Arts students

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Students often have a level of faith in their University that the debt they are accumulating and the hard work they demonstrate will lead them down a path of life success. However, recent findings have suggested that the traditional mantra associating a four year degree with a higher wage or more employment opportunities may be far past its prime.

Canada’s largest job database, Monster.ca, took a hard look at the numbers this year, analyzing the higher education wage premiums – that is, the amount that a university or college grad can expect to earn above that of someone with no higher education, for Canada’s most popular programs. What it found was that in the subjects the majority of Canadian students dedicate their time and money to, the wage premium was distressingly low.

The highest premium with a standard Arts degree was in the social sciences, where graduates of a four year program could expect to have a 38% advantage over those with no higher education. That means that for every $100 made by someone with no degree, a Social Science graduate could squeak out ahead with $138. From there, the number declines, Life Sciences and Humanities students earning just 37% and 23% respectively. Most unfortunate were the Fine & Applied Arts students, who actually made less than those with no higher education, at a -12% premium.

These figures are supplemented by a 2016 report by Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz, two economists from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who found that more than 50 percent of majors in the performing arts, anthropology, art history, history, communications, political science, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and international affairs were under or unemployed.

“It’s definitely depressing,” says Hayley Wright, an Arts student in her second year at UNB Saint John, “It makes me feel like I am going to have to work twice as hard to pay off this debt [that] I accumulated just trying to pay for [these] course[s].”

Wright’s uncertainty was echoed by Cathy Gao, a third year Arts student from China pursuing her Sociology Honours, who said, “We are living a pathetic life,” and pessimistically reacted to the statistics by saying that we should all just, “deal with it.”

When asked whether they believed that universities should begin limiting the number of Arts seats in order to decrease saturation, both students agreed. “It’s because it’s seen as the easiest university path,” Wright said, “so everyone rushes into Arts because they just want a degree. But now there are way too many students and the value of the degree [has] decreased.”

A more optimistic perspective came from 3rd year Arts student Morgan Jackson, who said that she started her degree after becoming dissatisfied with her career path. Upon hearing the figures from Monster, she said she was sad, but not surprised. 

“It’s frustrating to know that when I do graduate, I will be qualified for a lot of the same jobs I would have applied for previously.” But she continued, “I see value in my education that does not relate to the financial implications of having a Bachelor of arts.”