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Employment Guaranteed!

Despite its significant sticker price, higher education doesn’t often come with a guarantee.  After all, what a student learns, and how they put their skills to work in the world, has more to do with their own effort than anything the institution can do. But in a world of labour market uncertainty and rising career anxiety, students and their parents are often looking for a “sure thing” — high employment placement rates, impressive starting salaries, or a guaranteedreturn on investment.

For the past 10 years, one university in Canada has been offering students a literal guarantee that they will find career-related employment within six months of graduation: the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan. This week, Ken Steele sits down with president Vianne Timmons to discuss the “UR Guarantee,” a recruitment marketing tool that also drives student retention and career success.

Unlike many extended warranties, the UR Guarantee had to be offered free to all undergraduate students, to enhance accessibility rather than being an elite program for a select few who could afford it.  From the moment a student signs up, they are assigned a mentor who helps them design a program to get engaged on campus, in clubs, sports, student government, etc., depending on their interests. To stay eligible for the Guarantee, students must access academic counselling and support services, take resume-writing and employment interview workshops, and attend networking events. They also have to volunteer, on campus and in the community – providing significant energy and enthusiasm to the University’s campus ambassador program.  They must maintain a 70% GPA, and keep a daily log of their networking and job search activities. After all that, the University’s career services staff will work with new graduates for 6 months, to find them a job related to their field of study. If they are unsuccessful, they are welcome to return to campus and take up to 10 additional courses, tuition-free.

Obviously, the UR Guarantee is effective as a recruitment differentiator: students come from across North America, attracted by the prospect of guaranteed employment upon graduation. But the program is actually much more than a marketing gimmick: it ensures that students are aware of the support services and advising that they ought to be accessing on campus, and it even reduces any perceived stigma around using them, by effectively requiring it in order not to “void their warranty.”

The UR Guarantee was developed to address a key driver of student attrition: lack of engagement with extracurriculars and the support services that prepare students for transition to the world of work.  The initiative was intended to increase student retention, success and satisfaction, and it works: students enrolled in the program are 8% more likely to persist, and they graduate more employable and career-ready.

The offer of free tuition doesn’t actually cost the University of Regina much at all: in 10 years offering the Guarantee, just 2 students have had to return to campus to take additional classes. But the University has had to invest significantly in additional support staff to meet the demand – paid for thanks to the increased persistence of more than 1,800 students enrolled in the Guarantee program.

In Canada, at least 2 other universities have launched similar programs in the wake of the UR Guarantee: Concordia University of Edmonton has a “Concordia Commitment” program, and Nipissing University offers “the Nipissing Promise.”  Vianne would certainly encourage other institutional leaders to consider the approach as a powerful driver of student engagement.

You can read more about the UR Guarantee at


Vianne Timmons began her teaching career on the Babine First Nations Reserve in BC, and was appointed President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina in 2008. She has helped advance Indigenization through dozens of initiatives, and two successive strategic plans. Vianne is one of 12 recipients of the national 2019 Indspire Award.

Shot on location at First Nations University, on the University of Regina campus, in October 2018, by campus videography staff – thank you again!

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