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Margin Notes

PSE report roundup

Three recent reports, taken together, provide some interesting insights about the pathways and barriers to postsecondary education.


The number of reports on Canada’s postsecondary education sector seem to be multiplying of late. With at least a half-dozen released in the last few weeks, it’s getting hard to keep up.

With that in mind, here are three of the more important recent reports and their take-home messages. Together, they provide some interesting information about the pathways and barriers to PSE.

The Price of Knowledge: Access and Student Finance in Canada

Published by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, this is the fourth and presumably final volume of The Price of Knowledge. The foundation will be wrapping up operations in 2010 and nobody has stepped forward to continue its research program, which most in the PSE sector would agree has proven extremely valuable for policy purposes.

The foundation reports that certain groups – i.e., youth from low-income families, children of parents who have little or no postsecondary education, and Aborig­inal peoples – remain underrepresented in higher education. The authors acknowledge that governments are spending a significant amount of money providing financial aid to postsecondary students, but “the provision of money is not enough to equalize participation for all Canadians.”

The report is also chock-a-block with the latest research on such things as the value of a degree, participation and persistence trends in PSE, and changes to financial assistance and student debt.


“Most policy discussions around access still deal only with the financial element and do not seriously engage with the questions of how to ensure more youth from under-represented backgrounds can be readied for the academic and social challenges of campus life and how they can be supported to succeed and excel once their classes start.”

Synopsis: an indispensable resource for anyone involved in PSE. The CMSF will be greatly missed.

The Future to Discover Interim Impacts Report (executive summary here)


This report by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation is an interim evaluation of two projects sponsored jointly by the Governments of New Brunswick and Manitoba and the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. The projects, collectively called Future to Discover, were designed to test the effectiveness of interventions that address two key barriers to higher education for disadvantaged youth: lack of information about the benefits of PSE and perceived inability to pay for it.

Future to Discover has two components: Explore Your Horizons offers students enhanced career education planning through a series of workshops from grades 10 through 12; Learning Accounts promises Grade 10 students from lower-income families a bursary of up to $8,000 for PSE once they finish high school.

The SRDC report found that, because of the programs:

  • The proportion of Francophone students in New Brunswick who planned to apply to university increased from 32 percent to 47 percent;
  • The proportion of students in Manitoba who saw finances as a barrier to postsecondary studies decreased from 22 percent to 10 percent; and
  • In New Brunswick Anglophone schools, the promise of an $8,000 bursary increased the proportion of students who planned to pursue a postsecondary education from 87 percent to 96 percent.


“While various programs offer information and financial assistance relating to post-secondary education, Future to Discover is distinct in its design to help those youth traditionally least likely to attend post-secondary education, and in its early promise of financial assistance.”

Synopsis: this is a fairly technical report, and interim at that. But its importance lies in the fact that it explores some of the non-financial barriers alluded to in the Price of Knowledge report.

Who Doesn’t Go To Post-Secondary Education?

This study by a group of researchers at Queen’s University examined the transitions young people make from secondary school to university, college and apprenticeship training. This study, based on information from about 750,000 secondary school students, was commissioned by Colleges Ontario, with funding from the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation (them again!), the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario and the Ontario government.

Among the study’s findings:

  • At the end of five years of secondary school, 60 percent of students were enrolled in postsecondary education programs: 34 percent in university, 20 percent in college, and 6 percent in apprenticeships.
  • The transition to university directly from secondary school is relatively efficient in that most university-bound students go right after they graduate, but less than 40 percent of college enrollees come directly from secondary school.
  • A relationship was evident, as early as Grade 9, between achievement, secondary school graduation and transition to postsecondary education. For example, one failed course in Grade 9 reduced the high school graduation rate by over 20 percent, and students in Grade 9 with marks between 50% and 59% were less than half as likely to graduate as those with marks over 75%.


“It is necessary to understand the characteristics of those who do not pursue PSE so that the factors that have shaped their decision-making about furthering their education can be identified, and strategies can be developed to increase their PSE participation and to facilitate their transition to PSE.”

Synopsis: like the others, this report provides some interesting data and insights into the pathways that students take – and don’t take – to higher education.

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