Remote Opportunities for Adult Learners: Analyzing Ontario College Application Data During COVID-19 was written by Jackie Pichette, Hagar Effah (Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario) and Melissa Fritz (OCAS).
Remote Opportunities for Adult Learners: Analyzing Ontario College Application Data During COVID-19
Impacts of COVID-19 on College Applications – did the pandemic increase opportunities for adult learners?
A confluence of pandemic-related factors is creating an opportunity for mature learners in Ontario to access college programs, accelerating a trend that predates the pandemic. New data suggests adult learners are accessing PSE at a higher rate by capitalizing on a combination of more leisure time and the flexibility of online learning. A new report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) reveals more about the recent opportunities that are allowing Ontario adults to pursue postsecondary education (PSE) online and connects with research HEQCO has been engaged in over the last few years that has shown the need for a lifelong learning system that would allow people to receive additional training and support when navigating labour market disruptions.
The report, Remote Opportunities for Adult Learners: Analyzing Ontario College Application Data During COVID-19 stems from a partnership between HEQCO and OCAS, a not-for-profit organization delivering shared technology and centralized application services for Ontario’s public colleges. With a goal of better understanding the pandemic’s impact on college application plans, the two organizations worked together to modify OCAS’ 2021 Applicant Experience and Intention Survey.
The overall pool of respondents to OCAS’ 2021 survey skewed older than usual: 41% reported their age as 25 years or older compared with only 24% in 2018. When asked about their decision to apply to college, respondents cited factors such as “unemployment” and “an increase in time and availability” as reasons for their application.
Although a majority of respondents (about 80%) said their program application decisions were not affected by the pandemic, those whose decisions were affected indicated that a flexible delivery format was an important factor in their decision-making process. Further, about 70% of respondents aged 25 and older said the pandemic affected their learning preferences. Of these respondents, on average 77% reported being more receptive to online learning, with those 55 and over reporting the biggest change.
Colleges should look for lessons that can be taken from the massive online learning experiment that stemmed from the pandemic as opposed to simply returning to all pre-pandemic practices. OCAS has committed to continue asking students about learning preferences in future iterations of the survey. They will also collect demographic information to explore, for example, whether online learning programs are creating access points for students with accessibility needs.
It is important to remember that application data is one of many metrics that should be analyzed moving forward. Retention and graduation rates also need to be monitored in order to ensure Ontario’s postsecondary system is effectively serving students, the province and the labour market. OCAS and HEQCO are committed to supporting that push toward progress with ongoing research and analysis. For more on the OCAS and HEQCO partnership and its research potential, read the blog post written by Jackie Pichette.