I can distinctly remember all the excitement and anxiety that went along with starting my first year of university—excitement at beginning such an important form of career preparation, and anxiety over whether I had made the best choice in my program.
Post-secondary education, whether at a university, college or technical institute, is not just about a major life decision for new students. It is also a determinant of the skills and attributes of the future workforce.
The students of today, after all, are the employees of tomorrow...
As a demonstration of the importance of post-secondary education, a recent HRSDC report projected that students coming out of the educational system will continue to be a major source of workers, with roughly 550,000 new graduates entering the labour market each year over the next decade. This influx of recent graduates will face a changing employment landscape where having post-secondary education will be especially critical. Based on the same HRSDC study, 65.9% of job openings over the period 2006-15 are expected to be in occupations that usually require post-secondary education or are in management.
For the environmental sector in particular, post-secondary education trends have a profound impact. In a sector where new emerging areas require significant expertise and where serious labour shortages are looming, the number of post-secondary students pursuing environment-related programs can make a crucial difference. A recent study from ECO Canada found several surprising and insightful trends in environment-related post-secondary programs. Here are the highlights of three major trends:
Trend 1: Prevalence of University Enrolment
Based on ECO Canada’s Post-Secondary Environmental Education 2011 , university enrolments represented 81% of the total enrolments in environment-related post-secondary programs. Additionally, university enrolment in environmental programs has experienced strong growth. Between 2001-8, enrolment in university environment-related programs increased by 32%; a substantially higher growth rate than the total university enrolment increase of 25% over the same period.
Trend 2: College to University Program Shifts
While university enrolment has increased in environment-related programs, there has also been a remarkable shift in which type of institution students choose to pursue their programs at. Environment-related program enrolments have shifted most strongly from colleges to universities. This shift has been particularly noticeable in three specific program areas, including natural resources and conservation, biological and biomedical sciences, and physical sciences.
Trend 3: Contrasting Popular Programs
One last intriguing trend involves the differences in which environment-related programs were most common depending on the type of institution they were offered at. In university environment-related programs, the majority of enrolments were in biological and biomedical sciences (31% of environment-related enrolments), engineering (18%) and physical sciences (12%). Colleges, by contrast, had a different popular program profile. The greatest proportion of environment-related enrolments at colleges was in engineering technologies (39% of environment-related enrolments), natural resources and conservation (15%), science technologies (13%) and agriculture (13%).
Overall, these trends paint an interesting picture of the kinds of specializations that current students may bring to the table as future employees.
However, much more information is needed on the underlying reasons for these trends. If more students are choosing to pursue environment-related programs at universities, or they are specializing in biological and biomedical sciences, why is that the case? What are the factors that affect students’ post-secondary educational decisions?
What were the factors for you? What post-secondary program did you decide to take and why?