Work and family stronger influences on under-represented students
While the majority of Ontario students recognize the value of postsecondary education (PSE) and want to participate, applicants from under-represented groups are less likely to attend immediately. And the pathways they choose are more influenced by work and family issues, according to a study conducted by Academica Group and commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).
The study, PSE Outcomes , looked at the pathways of PSE applicants and their employment experiences during and after their education, with particular focus on four traditionally under-represented PSE groups: Aboriginal peoples, persons with
disabilities, students whose parents did not complete PSE, and students who delayed their entry into PSE after secondary school.
Based on a sample from among 45,000 Ontario applicants to college and university who had participated in Academica Group’s University and College Applicant Survey between 2005 and 2009, survey respondents were organized into five groups or pathways, based on the outcome of their initial application: 7 per cent did not receive offers of admission following their application; 8 per cent were offered admission to PSE but declined the offer; 58 per cent were attending the institution to which they had initially applied; 7 per cent were offered admission but left their program before completion; and 19 per cent were offered admission and had completed the program.
Applicants not offered admission to PSE
The study notes that once students have made the decision to apply to PSE, they are strongly committed to achieving that goal, regardless of the initial outcome of their application. However, for under-represented students who were not offered admission, participation in the labour market is less rewarding than for other groups. Only 12 per cent of “not offered” applicants from the four under-represented groups reported full-time employment earnings of $50,000 or more, compared to nearly half of other “not offered” applicants. Two-thirds of under-represented applicants who didn’t receive PSE offers and were employed full-time had incomes of less than $35,000.
Applicants declining an offer to PSE
The findings show that applicants from the under-represented groups who declined a PSE offer were influenced by financial concerns –including higher than expected costs and insufficient financial aid. Concerns about balancing school and employment were also more influential for these applicants.
However, the authors note that overall, applicants from the two “non-participation” pathways were quite likely to report later participation in PSE.
Students with disabilities were more prone to leaving their PSE program before completion and were much less likely than other “early leavers” to feel supported in their non-academic responsibilities. And while changes in career goals and transferring to another PSE institution were dominant reasons for leaving a program before completion, challenges in balancing school and family were much more influential for students in under-represented groups. Health-related problems were also a greater concern, especially for early leavers with disabilities.
Applicants from all four under-represented groups were less likely than other applicants to be current students, and those with disabilities were not confident that they had someone to rely on for useful information or that they understood the academic expectations of their program. These students, as well as Aboriginal and first-generation PSE also spent more time caring for dependents than other students. More under-represented current students used government student aid programs, and
usually depended on loans for a major part of their PSE funding. They were less likely to be financially supported by parents or family, or to receive scholarships or bursaries.
Under-represented students who completed their programs were more likely to access student services and financial aid. Under-represented graduates were much less likely than other graduates to receive financial support from their family, and were more likely to borrow from private sources to fund their education. PSE graduates with disabilities relied more on personal savings than those without disabilities, while larger proportions of first-generation PSE graduates took out student loans. Under-represented applicants who completed their PSE program were less likely than other PSE graduates to be employed in jobs related to their career goals.
Citing conflicting results on studies of PSE students with disabilities, the study says more detailed analysis is needed of the pathways of these applicants, including the type of disability. Also suggested is more research focus on education and labour market experiences of visible minority applicants and those born outside Canada.