Exploring Postsecondary Credentials and Labour Market Alignment in Ontario

Exploring Postsecondary Credentials and Labour Market Alignment in Ontario was written by Julia Colyar, Sarah Brumwell and Janice Deakin, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Exploring Postsecondary Credentials and Labour Market Alignment in Ontario

Ontario’s current credentials are meeting the needs of the labour market

As the province’s postsecondary credential offerings are expanded, a new report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), in partnership with the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC), finds that the current credentials available through Ontario’s colleges and universities are delivering positive labour market outcomes for graduates and meeting the needs of employers. Stable enrolment and graduation rates across credential types indicate that students consider Ontario credentials to have value and improve their job prospects. The consistency evident in employment rates and average earnings signals that the supply of Ontario graduates is meeting the demands of employers. Exploring Postsecondary Credentials and Labour Market Alignment in Ontario is a component of HEQCO’s examination of degree granting expansion in the college sector. Previous reports have examined the history of credential expansion in Ontario and the potential cost implications of expanding three-year degrees to colleges.

“Clear answers and information about all credentials are essential for stakeholders in Ontario’s labour market, including students, families, institutions and employers.”

In April 2022, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) announced an expansion of bachelor’s degrees offered through public colleges to include new three-year and additional four-year programs in applied areas of study. With labour market factors identified as a significant motivation for this change, this report examines the alignment between Ontario’s credentials and the economy. The report uses administrative and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) data provided by MCU and Statistics Canada’s Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP) to provide a high-level overview of Ontario graduates’ performance in the labour market.

Employment outcomes vary by level of education and type of institution, with more positive outcomes for graduates with more advanced credentials. On average, university degree holders earned more in their third year after graduation than college degree, diploma/advanced diploma and certificate holders. Receipt of Employment Insurance (EI) is inversely associated with credential type; university degree graduates received EI less often within three years of graduating than graduates of college degree, diploma/advanced diploma or certificate programs.

Evidence from this analysis indicates that government’s degree expansion initiative is not required to support employer needs and graduates continue to have success in the labour market with employment rates six months postgraduation sitting well above 80%. Notably, college degree enrolment has remained flat despite a marked increase in the number of programs offered in recent years. With the new policy in place, researchers and policy-makers should turn their attention to potential impacts on students, employers, institutions and government in years to come.

The report offers the following recommendations to government and postsecondary scholars:

  • Provide clear definitions and descriptions for all types of bachelor’s degrees in Ontario. Three-year bachelor’s degrees are a new credential in the college system and add complexity to Ontario’s postsecondary landscape. Our analysis confirms that the value employers and students assign to credentials varies by institution, level and program duration. With a new credential in the system, students and employers need clear information about any differences between three- and four-year bachelor’s degrees, and between academic degrees and degrees in applied areas of study. Distinctions should be clearly outlined in the Ontario Qualifications Framework (OQF).
  • Analyze enrolment and labour market outcomes for new bachelor’s degree programs. Enrolment and graduate outcomes for new, three-year college degree holders should be examined relative to other credentials to understand the demand for these programs in postsecondary and the labour market. Analyses should be extended to include field, industry and region.
  • Focus on longer-term graduate employment outcomes for three-year degree holders to explore the value of shorter-term degrees in applied areas of study over the course of a career.
  • Examine the extent to which the perceived value of other credentials shifts with the introduction of the new three-year college degree.