It's September 2014, and Kevin Dunklee is going back to school. Unlike other students returning to Western University, though, Dunklee's memories of UWO began in 1988.
"I started in economics and then I transferred to the music school," he said, laughing. "Both with an equally spectacular lack of success!"
After serving as the president of the Western Marching Band, Dunklee dropped out, confident he'd carve out a career on his own. Over 20 years later, though, Dunklee's resume featured everything from journalism gigs, to call centres and even a stint as a vacuum salesman. He realized his lack of post-secondary education was holding him back.
"It takes a little bit of self-honesty to realize 'OK, I’m not where I need to be, and I need to take two steps back in order to go three steps forward,' " Dunklee said. "I made the decision to go back to school at age 42."
One year later, he enrolled at Fanshawe College in an accounting program. Two years later, he jumped ship to Kings University College as a third-year BMOS student. He's now pursuing a minor in philosophy, too.
Dunklee's not alone, according to statistics released from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre. Their statistics revealed the number of applications from non-high school students is up by more than three per cent to almost 30,000 this year. Non-high school applicants include college students transferring to university, mature students and applicants from other provinces and abroad.
“We … know that research on future employment shows labour shortages for many occupations that require a university degree,” said the president of the Council of Ontario Universities, David Lindsay. “Going back to university in an economic downturn will ensure people have the critical thinking and leadership skills today’s employers are looking for as jobs emerge that we haven’t even dreamed of yet.”
National research backs Lindsay up. According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 70 per cent of new jobs in the coming decade will require postsecondary education and in 2013, CIBC reported most jobs in high demand in Canada require a university degree.
Alison Adair, communications manager at Western Continuing Studies, agrees. She said the number of adult learners, students who are applying for education programs over 27 years old, is booming.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in adult learners coming back to achieve those soft skills for career promotion,” Adair said. “People who may only have a high school education and have worked somewhere for 20 years, are now finding themselves not employable because they don’t have a skill set.”
It's also a trend that's been gaining steam over the last few decades. In the past 25 years, OUAC reports the proportion of 18- to 20-year-old Ontarians that attend university increased by around 50 per cent. Further, this year, the number of university applications from high school students stayed at last year’s level despite a dip in the university-aged population. The number of applications only fell 0.1 per cent from 2015.
"We’re in an economy, generally, that’s in transit," Dunklee said. "A lot of people that are in my generation that might have started [work] out of high school are now finding that the system is not working for them, and that they need to re-tool themselves."
Overall, almost 88,000 high school students filed more than 404,700 applications for spots at Ontario's 20 publicly funded universities for the 2016 academic year.
"Like anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it, and I’ve been putting a lot more into it," Dunklee said. "[Western’s] been a great community so far."