Will I be able to go to college or university?
If you want to, chances are you will. Enrolments at Ontario’s colleges, universities and trade/apprenticeship programs are at record levels, amid growing awareness of the lifetime benefits. Economically, the evidence is unequivocal. Postsecondary education (PSE) graduates have lower unemployment rates and higher average annual earnings than those who only complete high school.
However, students who come from lower-income families, families with no history of PSE participation, have a disability, or are Aboriginal, are less likely to pursue higher education and are underrepresented in our colleges and universities.
Students from under-represented groups are slightly more reluctant to take out loans for PSE, according to the study Willingness to Pay, which may be a consequence of underestimating the future benefits of their education. The study suggests that a reluctance to pursue loans might prompt some people -- especially those who have few alternative funding sources other than student loans and grants -- to conclude that PSE is unaffordable and decide not to enrol.
According to the study From Postsecondary Application to the Labour Market:
The Pathways of Under-represented Groups, students from these groups who pursue PSE are more likely to have jobs and family obligations while they attend school, and are more concerned about balancing school and employment. They are less likely to receive financial support from family, and are more likely to borrow from private sources rather than government programs to fund their education.
PSE is a family affair
What influences students the most when it comes to attending college or university? Whether their parents attended a postsecondary institution.
In fact, parental education may be the most consistently and uniformly important determinant of who goes to college or university, according to two recent studies (Under-represented Groups in Postsecondary Education in Ontario: Evidence from the Youth in Transition Survey and Access to Postsecondary Education: How Ontario Compares). The studies found that a single year of parental education has a greater positive impact on the likelihood of a son or daughter attending a postsecondary institution than does an extra $50,000 in annual parental income.
While access discussions often tend to focus on financial constraints such as tuition levels, loans and grants, the studies’ authors say that attention should also be paid to improving student motivation and performance at or before the high school level. These and other studies point to the importance of educating students and their families about the costs and benefits of education, increasing awareness of financial aid programs and exploring early interventions that address the significant non-financial barriers to PSE -- such as negative attitudes towards education and lack of family or community support.
Making it to the finish line
Even in overcoming these barriers, some students who begin college or university studies end up dropping out. The current graduation rate for Ontario colleges is about 65 per cent, and over 79 per cent for university. While there is insufficient provincial data on precisely how many students transfer to another institution, leave but return to school or leave permanently, national statistics indicate that some 20 per cent of college students and 15 per cent of university students enrolled fail to graduate within five years. Here too, early interventions could have a significant impact, in this case by identifying current PSE students who might be at risk of dropping out.
The recent study Shifting from Retention Rates to Retention Risk: An Alternative Approach for Managing Institutional Student Retention Performance, found that a pre-emptive approach could enable institutions to intervene before the student drops out. Among potential risk factors, according to the study: students who are attending part time, are not attending postsecondary institutions on scholarships or bursaries, have lower high school grades and/or have not declared a major.
Breaking down the barriers
Focusing on PSE accessibility and success is critical, as nearly three quarters of new jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. Currently, Ontario is leading the country in PSE attainment -- more than 64 per cent of Ontarians ages 25 to 64 hold a postsecondary (college, university, apprenticeship or trade) credential. Canada’s ability to meet future demands for skilled workers depends on continued growth in postsecondary participation rates. Among the best opportunities for that growth is increasing access and reducing barriers for groups that are currently underrepresented in our postsecondary institutions.
High school student Moya Garrison-Msingwana on next steps
Will I graduate with the skills I need to be successful personally and professionally?
What will postsecondary education look like by the time my kids get there?