HSS grads in the workplace: Better than Baristas

Monday, May 30, 2016


Peter Severinson, Policy Analyst, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

If you work in the humanities and social sciences (HSS), there is likely one myth you are tired of hearing: that their graduates will not be able to find good jobs, that they’ll all be working as overeducated baristas. Well, thanks to an enlightening presentation entitled Barista or better? Where will a university or college degree take you? on the opening day of Congress 2016 by Dr. Ross Finnie, we now know this isn’t true.

Finnie, whose background is in economics, is the Director of the Education Policy Research Initiative at the University of Ottawa. His group is studying the labour market outcomes of students who graduated from 14 universities and colleges between 2005 and 2012. The final report is not available yet, but Finnie was able to share an enlightening sneak peek to his Congress audience.

Finnie’s current project is a considerable expansion of a similar study produced in 2015, which was limited to graduates from the University of Ottawa. In that study, he found that graduates from humanities and social science programs enjoyed strong earnings growth in the years following graduation. For instance, students graduating from social science programs in 1998 got starting salaries of nearly $40,000, which grew to roughly $80,000 after 13 years. Humanities graduates started at about the same level and saw their earnings grow to just over $70,000.

These results are achieved by taking graduation data from the university and matching them with tax records—a feat accomplished with the help of Statistics Canada, which also ensures that the individuals in the data set remain anonymous. Finnie’s new study has a greatly expanded sample, featuring 14 institutions rather than one. The final results won’t be available until later this summer, but Finnie says the trends are not dissimilar to what he saw in his previous study, in that earnings of HSS grads rise steadily and significantly in the years following graduation.

Finnie’s research has enormous potential to describe the value and impact of education in ways that haven’t been possible before. We can see clearly in the tax records that HSS grads neither start nor remain in low-wage employment. Hopefully, this will help thousands of HSS students feel more confident about their educational decisions, and encourage many more potential scholars to fearlessly follow their passion.



Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences