We knew we weren’t hallucinating

July 15, 2008

Monday’s Globe and Mail ran a story that officially confirmed something that we and most young people have known for ages: fewer and fewer of us are finishing off at the academic institution where we first enroll, graduating before the five year mark, or avoiding time off from school to get some thinking done.

Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Project has been tracking a group of young canadians since 2000 (the year the three of us entered university). That research has been brought together in a paper by StatsCan’s Theresa Qiu and University of Ottawa economist Ross Finnie which will be officially released later in the month.

It’s findings:

– Roughly one quarter of college students take time off, take more than five years to graduate, or change their minds about their school or area of study.

– About 10% leave school without graduating.

– 2.8% are moving from university to college (not shocking at all – in fact, we assumed this might be higher)

– 1.4% do the opposite and switch from college to university.

Before anyone starts freaking out and pointing at today’s commitment-phobic, chronically ADD “Twixters” who have been spoiled to the point that they’ll never know what they want, let’s slow down a second.

Young people have always been restless. That’s what they do. And though their parents weren’t necessarily as prone to bounce and stop and ponder and bounce again, there’s a good reason why. Not to sound whiny, but we’ve grown up watching our parents and friend’s parents divorce, suffer mid-life breakdowns, and look back on past mistakes with great regret. As we approach an uncertain future, the way of life that so many have taken for granted for so long suddenly seems in dire need of an overhaul (remember that boomers?), but few have put forward viable new paradigms for living in the 21st century.

Furthermore, the education system we’ve emerged from subscribes to an antiquated 19th model that has refused to adapt to the rate and nature of societal change. One of the most pressing but least discussed issues facing Canadian society today is how to adapt our education system to new ways of working and living. We need to abandon the industrial model and develop something more participatory that encourages free-thinking and innovation. This new model must help the students passing through it test their interests and desires against the realities of the world into which they’ll soon be living.

The Bachelors degree has become today’s high school. That needs to be reversed.

And yes, of course, the phenomenon noted in the research has to do with the students themselves as well. We are a bit coddled (in general). We are hyper-programmed, to the point where few high school students Paul has taught are really capable of discussing what it is that theylike or think.

Further, our consumer society has had a huge spill-over effect on the educational sphere, making it yet another mall, where we can shop for a future. “Do I like environmental science? Hmm. I’ll try it on. Do I look fat in this? Maybe. Yeah, I think my butt looked better in business.”

In the end though, all this shopping isn’t such a bad thing. As we discovered while putting together Kickstart, some of the most successful people in the country did their share of shopping too.

Margot Franssen, the head of Accessorize Canada and former head of Body Shop Canada, tried out business at university, got bored, switched to philosophy, graduated with a “worthless” degree, and still managed to set up a hugely successful company.

Syndicated cartoonist Lynn Johnston, designer Bruce Mau, and artist Christopher Pratt all dropped out of art school or switched schools.

Jim Pattison left university to sell cars. His boss let him finish up his courses at night, but that meant he took longer than necessary.

Edward Burtynsky took a year off from Ryerson in order to get work experience and earn extra money.

Shopping around and taking time to think about what you want and need from a career is not a bad thing, provided that your shopping is active rather than idle.

Dignitas International’s James Orbinski bounced around quite a bit as a young man. Her left CEGEP twice, took time to figure out his university major, thought he might want to be a psychologist, and then changed his mind. Throughout, though, he says he was “searching with intent,” actively looking for what sparked his particular passion.

In tough economic times, there is no doubt more pressure on young people to pick a career path and power through post-secondary education. Fair enough. It costs a lot of money to hang around into your fifth or sixth year of a university program or take time off to clear your head.

That said, parents, educators, and politicians should be aware that, for many, the search is essential. If they’re not able to engage in it in high school, then they’ll need to do it at university. And if not there, then at some time thereafter.

If we’re going to freak out. Let’s at least freak out in the right direction – a constructive one.


5 Responses to “We knew we weren’t hallucinating”

  1. USAGuy said

    Is “kickstart” some Canadian term for ‘loser’?… i really, really, tried to give this site a chance, but this is worse than the worse Canadian television (also funny you don’t publish most of my comments – at this point for your pathetic book and site, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

    Sounds like you’re providing ‘feel good’ ‘advice’ that’s empty and worthless and doesn’t challenge the reader but appeals to their worst traits….you’re so afraid of being politically incorrect (a prosecutable offense in Canada, I understand) you waste enormous amounts of time/space on being ‘diverse’. Gee how radical and innovating….

  2. Dear USA Guy, thanks so much for the enlightened comment. As it’s clear you aren’t actually reading the posts and instead simply dive-bombing the site, we suggest you get off your couch, put some clothes on, and go outside. Maybe find something constructive to do with your life. Maybe learn how to read.

  3. USAGuy said

    Shouldn’t you have posted that in French as well?

    The post is sure to appeals to the lazy, the distracted, the indecisive. “I am just finding myself”. Nothing here about persistence, grit and hard work…and if you knew **shit** about education you would know that the ‘antiquated’ 19th century model is far superior and in fact, some of if ‘methods’ help children deal with so called ADD better than drugs. Then again you idiots think that multicultural Canada is great too. We’ll see what you’re saying when the Chinese push you of Vancover and Toronto has a crime rate higher than Miami and New York.

  4. USAGuy said

    PS, I wouldn’t get too mad at your sole reader. If you’re going to write a book about career success, wouldn’t it be nice if you could actually provide and example?

    But like I said, from what i get from reading your ‘success’ ‘stories’ (and i emphasize stories) is feel good, sugar coated and sugar inside fluff with a politically correct twist (like deepa metha – yeah Indians just LOVE her)…its not like people can’t read that elsewhere.. who would want to read the same about second rate Canadian ‘success’ stories, even Canadians?

  5. Intriguing, but, again, it doesn’t seem like you’ve read the book (or many of the stories we’ve posted online). Odd, since you seem to spend so much of your time here. If you had read the book, you would have noted that an entire third of it is devoted to Perseverance and features the stories of those who overcame paralysis, financial hardship, discrimination, etc. and went on to do remarkably well.

    As for your notes about education, we advocate raising standards at the same time as brining the outside world into the classroom. It’s important that students see the connection between what they do in school and what they will be doing outside of it.

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