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Margin Notes

Market signals, income advantage push university enrolment higher

Enrolment at Canada's universities continues to climb, while the value of a degree still holds, says AUCC report.


The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has released volume one this morning of its latest Trends in Higher Education series. This first volume contains the latest data on university enrolment and looks at enrolment trends past, present and future. The association unveiled some of the data already this spring, but this is the first time that the full report is available.

According to the report, in 2010, there were almost 1.2 million students in degree programs on Canadian campuses (755,000 undergraduates and 143,400 graduate students studying full-time, and an additional 275,800 students studying part-time). Fifty-six percent of university students were women, and 10 percent were international students. The number of full-time university students has more than doubled since 1980, when there were 550,000 full-time and 218,000 part-time university students on Canadian campuses. Looking ahead, the report predicts enrolment will continue to rise – by about 14 percent over the next decade, or an extra 125,000 full-time students.

What has been driving growth in university enrolment? Demography is a factor, but not the main driver (this point that “demography is not destiny” is picked up on in an accompanying news report on Trends in University Affairs). Rather, the principal driver has been the demand for “a highly skilled and educated labour force,” says the report. The number of jobs filled by university graduates more than doubled from 1.9 million in 1990 to 4.2 million in 2009.Trends points out that even during the recessionary years of 2008-2010, 300,000 new jobs were created for university graduates. This compares to 430,000 jobs lost for those with no postsecondary education.

As well, the value of a university education continues to hold. According to the report, research shows that the income advantage for a bachelor’s graduate over a registered tradesperson or college graduate working full-time is, on average, 40 percent, or $1 million over a working career. The advantage over those with a high school education grows to 75 percent, or $1.3 million.

Says the report:

Census data confirms that university graduates see their income increase more rapidly and consistently throughout their careers. University graduates also experience fewer and shorter periods of unemployment, volunteer more, and are more engaged in their social and political activities. University graduates pay a greater proportion of taxes, and draw less frequently on social services, enabling governments to provide more services to all Canadians.

“This data is very helpful to the decision-making process of not only governments, but also students and their families,” says AUCC President Paul Davidson. “There is very insightful information here about the income advantage of a university education … as well as the growth and quality of employment opportunities for university graduates.”

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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