On Campus

Summer job market just the last straw

Students have plenty of reasons to be angry and frustrated

The Toronto Sun ran an article yesterday on the really bad summer employment situation for students. Of course I touched on this topic here already, but the Toronto Sun does add a new note of hysteria to the situation. It presents students as very angry and frustrated. And it connects the problem with the cost of education.

Lack of summer jobs, rise in already lofty tuition fees forcing university students to sink deeper into debt.

First, an observation. I don’t consider the Toronto Sun to be trend-setting media by any stretch but their politics are well established. When the Sun starts reporting on high tuition and debt burden among students as problems then it’s time to pay attention. These are not their usual political sympathies.

The situation with the summer job market for students, however, is a slender hook for this story. It’s well understood that this summer was a very bad time for a variety of reasons and this sort of perfect storm won’t soon be repeated. So the real story isn’t that students are heading into the new academic year down however much money they might have saved over the summer. A few thousand dollars more or less, when compared with total educational debt, just isn’t a big deal anymore. The story is the situation in general.

Students are frustrated with the cost of education and their future job prospects because they’ve been fed a load of crap and they know it. Increases in the cost of education are continually justified with reference to future income potential but the job market for your typical bachelor degree simply is not what it once was. More than that, it’s flatly irrational to suggest that the competing trend – to send more and more people through post-secondary education – won’t have an effect on the marketability of the resulting credentials. Downward pressure on the job market is very well understood at this point. But you’d think educational institutions and their promoters have never heard of the concept.

Your average post-secondary student probably isn’t thinking about these things in quite the same terms. But students are aware of their personal situations. They were promised an awful lot when they signed up for university or for college. It was supposed to be the “right” thing to do. And now, partway through, they find they can’t even score summer jobs spinning cotton candy at the Exhibition. It rather does tend to bring all the other frustrations and doubts to the surface.

This is a big topic all around. It touches on a lot of what’s fundamentally wrong with how we market and present post-secondary education and with deeply held political illusions on the topic. The summer job market, this year, is just a lightning rod for the frustrations that students feel. Unemployment is scary and frustrating. And for some, unavoidably, it’s just a dress rehearsal for the real scare they’ll face upon graduation.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.