U of O prof Ross Finnie collected data on the incomes of more than 340,000 graduates from 14 post-secondary institutions in a span of 8 years. Photo: Courtesy of Ross Finnie.
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Prof’s research shows value in all fields of post-secondary education

For those worried that four years studying sociology will get you nowhere, think again—a new U of O study says that graduates from post-secondary institutions are earning high wages after all.

The study, conducted by professor Ross Finnie from the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, shows that graduates of post-secondary institutions, regardless of the degree, earn significantly higher salaries than one would expect. For example, graduates of science programs can earn as much as $50,000 upon entering the workforce, while those from the arts and humanities can earn even more several years after graduation.

“I’ve been interested in these sorts of issues, life chances and the role that education plays in that, really my whole life,” says Finnie, who is also the director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the U of O. “I’ve been working on issues related to education and the benefits of education for a good 25 years.”

The research started off as a pilot project funded by the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund, a section of the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, with just students from the U of O.

Former U of O president Allan Rock provided a great deal of support for the pilot project, through high-level leadership and advocacy. Rock also endorsed the project in an op-ed for University Affairs magazine, a Canadian publication on university news, careers, and opinions.

Following the initial project’s success, Finnie received more funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, and expanded his research, collecting data on the incomes of more than 340,000 graduates from 14 post-secondary institutions in a span of 8 years. This data gave the basis for his study, Barista or Better? New Evidence on the Earnings of Post-Secondary Education Graduates.

Barista or Better? revealed that while graduates of science and engineering programs do earn significantly more than those from the arts or humanities, the latter do earn an average of $57,000 per year after eight years in the workforce.

“These outcomes are way better than most people seem to think,” says Finnie. Finnie hopes that through his study, students will make informed choices about their post-secondary education, and study what they are passionate about, rather than what they believe will give them a better income.

He also points out that companies are hiring graduates from arts programs because these programs give students certain compensable skills.

“It’s being able to work in a team, especially a multi-disciplinary team, it’s being a self-starter, it’s being able to think and discover independently, it’s being able to think outside the box and think creatively.”

So what implications do these results have on young people right now?

“I would hope and I would speculate that those in university or in college would have more hope,” Finnie says. He also warns against studying something you do not have a passion for just to earn a high salary.

“If you take what you have upon graduation, and then look for good opportunities, there’s a good chance they’ll come along.”