EDITORIAL: Lessons of a lagging economy

This month students from across the province and the country, and an increasing number from out of country, will flood into Greater Victoria

This month students from across the province and the country, and an increasing number from out of country, will flood into Greater Victoria for their post-secondary education.

All told, on the order of 35,000 full- and part-time students will be attending post-secondary classes at the University of Victoria, Camosun College or Royal Roads University, which is a few thousand more people than the population of Langford, or nearly 10 per cent of the region’s population.

As much as Victoria is a government town and a military headquarters, it is an education town too, with plenty of high-paying instructor  and professor jobs, and support staff to make the educational industry tick.

After a few years of flat growth, UVic is seeing an upswing in new student numbers, about 500 more than last year. Camosun College’s student numbers, by contrast, are falling, but overall there is a net growth in post-secondary students.

Any increase is generally good for Greater Victoria’s economy – students spend on tuition, housing, food and entertainment. UVic’s 2012 economic impact analysis of 15,000 full-time students pegs direct spending at $177 million annually. A Camosun College economic impact study estimated that students that come from outside Greater Victoria collectively spend at least $7 million per year in the region.

The reason why UVic is seeing an increase in student numbers is complex – admissions criteria and marketing can play a role, but the economy tends to be the prime mover – people go to school when times are tough and hopefully finish school during an upswing in the economy.

But since the 2008-09 recession, governments and many companies have remained in a cycle of cutting spending and reducing jobs, either through attrition or direct layoffs. Despite a highly advertized jobs plan, B.C. is creating few jobs, especially for new university graduates trying to launch a career.

More students in post-seconary is generally good for society, but hopefully it’s also not another sign of a sputtering B.C. economy.