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The Impact of School Closures and Emergency Remote Learning on Postsecondary transitions in 2020/21: Findings from Toronto

The Impact of School Closures and Emergency Remote Learning on Postsecondary Transitions in 2020/21: Findings from Toronto was written by Kelly Gallagher-Mackay and Robert S. Brown with George Tam and Christine Corso in collaboration with the research department of the Toronto District School Board.

TDSB student applications and confirmations to postsecondary institutions increased during the pandemic

Following the emergency closure of schools in March 2020, graduating students from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) applied for and confirmed acceptance to postsecondary education (PSE) institutions at a greater rate than prior to the pandemic. A new report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) shows university confirmations increased by 3% over the previous year, while confirmations to colleges remained steady. “This data speaks to both students’ resilience, and to a set of institutional supports and overall societal expectations that were able to maintain access to this important pathway in the face of a considerable shock to the education system.”

The Impact of School Closures and Emergency Remote Learning on Postsecondary Transitions in 2020/21: Findings from Toronto is the second report published by HEQCO that uses TDSB data to examine the impact of the pandemic on access to postsecondary education. While the first report focused on expected graduation in light of the emergency shift to online education, this report examines the progress into PSE for the same group of students. Combining TDSB data with information on PSE applications and confirmations, this report compares the PSE pathways of more than 16,000 students who were in their fourth year of school in 2018/19 with a similar number of students who were in their fourth year in 2019/20.

Certain traditionally underrepresented groups, such as first generation, Middle Eastern and Black students, saw increases in year-over-year application and confirmation rates at a greater rate than the TDSB average, but this was not the case for all equity-seeking groups. Southeast Asian and Latin American/Latino/Latinx students saw lower year-over-year increases in university confirmations of acceptance than TDSB averages, despite particularly high graduation rates. Students with special education needs saw growth far below the average in both applications and confirmed acceptances and students with disabilities saw an overall decline in college confirmations.

The affluence of a high school’s area/demographics as identified by the TDSB’s Learning Opportunities Index also had an impact on both graduation rates and confirmed acceptances. Although credit accumulation increased for all students, those from the least affluent schools saw increases below the average. This was also true for university confirmations, meaning the already considerable gap between educational outcomes for students from the most- and least-affluent schools increased during the early months of the pandemic.

The findings in this report contrast sharply with findings from the United States that showed an unprecedented one-year decline in enrolment at colleges and universities. This reinforces the need for high-quality local data sources to understand the factors influencing K-12 success and postsecondary pathways in Ontario and Canada.

Additionally, it should be noted that these results only reflect the earliest impacts of the pandemic and are limited to students in their fourth year of high school. Many students transition out of high school in their fifth and sixth years and were not included in these findings. A multiyear, province-wide examination of student data is needed to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on access and student success.