Parental education key determinant of who pursues higher education

Throughout Canada, having no family history of college or university is a significantly greater obstacle to higher education than is family income…

Toronto, February 8, 2011 – Throughout Canada, having no family history of college or university is a significantly greater obstacle to higher education than is family income.  In fact, according to two new studies commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), 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 parental income.

For Ontario students, coming from a low-income household is even less of an obstacle to college or university education than is the case anywhere else in Canada according to the studies, Access to Postsecondary Education: How Ontario Compares, and Under-represented Groups in Postsecondary Education in Ontario: Evidence from the Youth in Transition SurveyWhile parental education was a strong influencer throughout Canada, family income was more strongly associated with college or university attendance in Atlantic Canada and Quebec than elsewhere. Further, the effects of family income were stronger nationally for females than for males.

Both studies used data from the Youth in Transition Survey, a longitudinal survey administered by Statistics Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada that examines the major transitions in the lives of young people, particularly between education, training and work.

The results of these and previous studies “present a fundamental challenge to our thinking about ‘barriers’ to postsecondary education (PSE),” writes study co-author Ross Finnie. “It is perhaps not so much that those from low-income families are not able to go to PSE but that they also tend to be from families whose parents do not have a PSE credential.  It is the transmission of values in favour of PSE, the preparation for PSE and other such factors associated with parental education – and not family income – that actually matter most.”  Finnie says there is growing consensus that early background and other cultural factors may be the most important influencers of all.

“The policy implications are potentially far-reaching,” he says, noting that in addition to addressing financial constraints (such as tuition levels, loans and grants), more attention could be devoted to “improving student motivation and performance at (or before) the high school level, providing better information to students and their families about the costs and benefits of education from an early age and carrying out other interventions targeted at the early-rooted and family-based factors that seem to be the most important determinants of access.”

Finnie is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, where he is also director of the recently formed Education Policy Research Initiative.  Study co-authors Stephen Childs and Andrew Wismer areresearchers with the Education Policy Research Initiative.

From the source: Hear from study co-author Ross Finnie and Richard Wiggers, HEQCO research director, in a short video interview.

About the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is an arm’s-length agency of the Government of Ontario dedicated to ensuring the continued improvement of the postsecondary education system in Ontario.  The Council was created through the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario Act, 2005. It is mandated to conduct research, evaluate the postsecondary education system, and provide policy recommendations to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities with a view to enhance the quality, access, and accountability of Ontario’s higher education system.

For further information, please contact:

Susan Bloch-Nevitte
Executive Director, Communications
Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
(416) 212-5242