It's about values, not money: why students pick the programs they do

November 11, 2014

These days, almost everyone involved in postsecondary education is focused on employment.  Governments and educators are all wondering how to make sure that students have the skills they need to find a job post-graduation. There’s no mystery around why that’s the case. Even as the economy recovers following the downturn of 2008, youth unemployment remains a big issue for students, as well as for parents, who want assurance that their children will be able to make a living after investing thousands of dollars—and maybe going into debt—for an education.

It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that when students pick a program, neither job placement rates nor income potential were exactly top of mind. When we asked just over 600 first-year students on our StudentVu panel why they picked the program that they did, 87% said that personal, passionate interest in the field had very much or quite a bit of an influence on their choice. That’s a big jump up from the proportion who said income potential (44%), job placement rates (42%), or the opinions of parents, family, or friends (34%—sorry, Mom and Dad.) In fact, 61% said that a passionate interest was very much an influence, compared with just 17% who cited job placement rates.

Graph: What influences students' program choice

This isn’t to say that students didn’t have a career in mind when they were browsing through the course calendar. 44% of first-year students surveyed said that they felt that their program would lead directly to their career. Others expected to take a more roundabout route, but had at least some inkling of what kind of career they’d be interested in. 20% expected to complete multiple programs to reach their career, and 16% planned on attending multiple institutions before reaching their career. Only 20% didn’t know what their career destination was going to be just yet.

What does this tell us? Well, for one thing, it suggests that students are thinking about their future jobs. There’s a lot of talk about “millennials” or “Generation Z”—whatever you want to call them—not being interested in a career, but that’s not the case. What they want is a career that they are passionate about, and they’re willing to take a risk on a program that may not have great job prospects today if they feel it will let them pursue their passion for the rest of their lives.

This perspective is shared by Gen Y Inc, a Canadian multigenerational consultancy led by a team including entrepreneurs Emerson Csorba and Eric Termuende. According to Termuende, "students and young professionals want to feel valued by their employers, which requires a genuine and strategic approach to engagement." Students transitioning into the workforce "are searching for employers and teams that capitalize on their energy and passion," Termuende explains. "That requires a two-way dialogue between students and their new managers." 

Values motivate these students—not just money.

Looking for more insight into what matters to your students? Contact us and find out how Academica can help.