Linking Postsecondary Non-completion Rates and Labour Market Outcomes

Linking Postsecondary Non-completion Rates and Labour Market Outcomes was written by Julia Colyar, Ken Chatoor and Janice Deakin.

Nearly one-quarter of Ontario students who enrolled in postsecondary education did not finish with a credential after eight years

Ontario postsecondary education (PSE) boasts high access and participation rates, but this access is not synonymous with student success. A new report published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) finds that nearly one-quarter of students who enrolled in PSE did not graduate after eight years. Non-completion is costly for government and institutions, but it is especially costly for students. Non-completing students invest their time and tuition but do not reap the benefits of a completed credential, such as increased earnings and lower unemployment rates.

Due to data availability, previous research on student persistence in Ontario was limited to institution-level analysis with little insight into students who transferred from one institution and graduated at another. Statistics Canada’s Youth In Transition Survey (YITS) allowed researchers to explore system-level educational pathways, including drop-out and transfer rates, but the survey was discontinued in 2010. New data and tools from Statistics Canada created opportunities to explore the system-wide non-completion rate in Ontario; how non-completion rates vary across credential types; and the labour market outcomes for non-completers. HEQCO partnered with the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) to analyze data files from the Statistics Canada Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform. This report examines full-time students enrolled in Ontario PSE for the first time in fall semesters from 2011 to 2014, analyzing three outcome variables: non-completion, economic activity in the year after leaving or completing PSE and annual earnings. The report also looks at the impact of age, gender, immigration status, student aid in entry year, cohort, program and field of study on completion rates and earnings.

Students in certificate and diploma programs had higher non-completion rates than students in bachelor’s programs, despite degrees being longer in duration. Rates for students enrolled in bachelor’s programs also decreased to a greater degree over time while rates for certificate and diploma students were relatively unchanged from year six to eight. These results suggest that learners make decisions about persistence long before their sixth year in school. Differences across credential types also reflect student investments of time and money as costs and rewards are lower for students in shorter credentials, which may result in lower commitments to persistence and graduation.

Non-completion varied according to background characteristics, with higher rates for men, domestic students and those who received federal financial aid. Across credential types, non-completion rates were lowest for students who entered PSE at age 18. Mature learners may face financial challenges or family responsibilities that impact their PSE persistence.

The report’s findings highlight the importance of broadening access discussions to include retention, persistence, completion and non-completion. Linked data can be used to further examine student pathways through PSE and into the labour market. HEQCO will explore non-completion according to students’ socio-demographic characteristics in a future report. These results can assist government and institutions in understanding opportunities to enhance student supports.