Last week, the agency Human Resources and Development Canada released its report of the 1997 National Survey of 1995 Graduates to the public. The survey examines the transition students make when entering the workforce by interviewing postgrad students to determine trends in employment, salaries, and debt.

The study reported that employment levels and salaries for the majority of university graduates have remained fairly constant over the last 10 years, with a university graduate in mathematics and physical sciences receiving an average starting salary just under C$40,000.

Though some students may equate these findings with "stagnation," student leaders seem to be satisfied in light of a recent spate of public criticism on academic preparedness. "We're very happy to see the study because it eliminates the myth that university grads don't get jobs. In the media, we've seen recently that community college grads are the only ones that are employable," said Veronica Chau, vice president of education for the University of Waterloo Federation of Students. The study, she says, proves "this is simply not the case."

However, the study reveals more worrisome trends. Although graduates received equivalent starting salaries in 1995 and in 1985, the previous national survey shows they are leaving school with dramatically more debt. Average debt levels for a graduating student has risen from under C$7,500 to over C$12,000 in the last 10 years (in inflation-adjusted dollars). Two years after graduation, students still owe an average of 75% of that figure. In contrast, 10 years ago students had paid off half their loans at the same postgrad time point. Student activists who have lamented the rising level of student debt see this data as an objective measure of the problem's scope. "This study will definitely help us.... There are students graduating with C$25,000 worth of debt--that's the average for a university student--and it's a lot more serious than we've seen before," explained Chau. "It acts as a barrier to education."

The second trend will not come as a surprise for many Next Wave readers. Although employment levels have remained fairly constant for most university grads, unemployment rates for Ph.D.s 2 years after graduation are currently higher than measured in any previous survey. Overall, unemployment of Ph.D.s has increased from under 5% 10 years ago to nearly 8% today. The survey simultaneously indicated that unemployment levels of Master's level students are falling.

The full results of the survey can be found online.