Calgary’s ‘youthexit’ is real, local post-secondary students say

Ready for class: Culinary Arts students at SAIT in the Senator Burns Building on Feb. 4. All of the students said that it’s likely they will have to leave Calgary after they graduate. (Photo by Samuel Donnelly/The Press)

Calgary’s youth exodus is real.

According to informal survey work by The Press in the past week, nearly half of students questioned at the city’s three big post-secondary institutions say they are planning to leave Calgary after they graduate this spring, or in future years.

Students from post-secondary schools around Calgary were asked if they intended to leave Calgary after they graduate.

Of 52 students contacted, in in-person interviews and an online survey, 23 said they would depart when they were finished school, while another 17 said they were thinking about making the move.

Only 12 indicated they planned to remain in the city which only a few short years ago was a magnet for people aged 18 to 24.

The numbers were gathered in response to a CBC Calgary news story which quoted municipal census data to show the youth cohort here shrank by 5.5 per cent in the past decade.

The number one reason cited by current students for leaving Calgary was the economy and the lack of job opportunities in their chosen field.

“I love this city and believe it is a great place for young people to be. But people have to go where there is an opportunity,” said Taylor Thompson, a bachelor of education student at MRU.

The same was true at SAIT, where a group of Culinary Arts students said they would likely be hitting the road after finishing their program this spring.

Riley Singleton, an information and security student at SAIT, said that he’d likely stay in Calgary because he would probably get a job out of school. But he added that as his career starts to grow he would probably have to leave Calgary for the West Coast.

According to the survey, those that are staying in Calgary are mostly taking courses for careers in energy, technology and business.

A respondent that wished to remain anonymous said that, outside of the oil and gas industry, there wasn’t any way for her to make a decent wage in Calgary in the current climate.

Another reason students given for why they won’t stay was a perceived lack of support for young people.

“Jobs are elsewhere in the country and education doesn’t seem to be a high priority for Alberta right now,” said Thompson.

Along with more emphasis on education, more needs to be done to provide affordable housing for young people, Thompson said.

Several of those surveyed also reported feeling out of place in Calgary.

I love this city and believe it is a great place for young people to be. But people have to go where there is an opportunity. – Taylor Thompson

“Calgary just seems like the place for older people,” said one anonymous correspondent.

And politics may also be a  problem for some.

“I intend to leave Calgary due to the current political climate as well as cultural values,” said Brynlea Griffin, a journalism student at MRU.