Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Access and Barriers to Postsecondary Education: Evidence from the Youth in Transition Survey

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Access and Barriers to Postsecondary Education: Evidence from the Youth in Transition Survey

Article excerpt


Public policy makers in Canada, like those all over the world, share a strong interest in postsecondary education (PSE) participation. This interest is motivated by the perception that all countries will need highly educated workforces to compete internationally in the new knowledge-based global economy. In this paper we focus first on who accesses PSE in terms of family characteristics, then on the specific barriers faced by those youths who do not access PSE, and finally on how different barriers are related to family background. For policy purposes, these findings can help us better understand patterns of access and develop policies that could improve access opportunities, including for those groups who are currently underrepresented in PSE.

Much of the research in the area of PSE access has focused on the effects of tuition fees, family income, and other indicators and measures of the affordability of PSE. This focus can be at least partially attributed to the availability of datasets containing the relevant variables; to the conventional wisdom that related policy levers (e.g., the regulation of tuition fees and the provision of student financial aid) can play a role in expanding PSE opportunities; and to the widespread attention financial barriers tend to be given in the mainstream media.

The advent of the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), however, has allowed for an unprecedented investigation of the factors that determine access to PSE, owing to the rich student, parent, and family background information it includes; the longitudinal nature of the dataset; and its strong focus on education.

The first part of this paper investigates the various financial and non-financial factors related to PSE access, including family income, parental education, family type, visible minority and immigrant status, language, and place of residence (province and urban/ rural status). In the second part, we focus on those youths who do not access PSE. Using both descriptive and modelling approaches, we investigate the various barriers students report for not attending PSE, including those relating to their financial situation, academic preparation and performance, and motivation, and we explore the relationships between these reported barriers and students' individual and family characteristics. Finally, in order to further probe the ambiguous "financial situation" barrier, we relate youths' reported barriers to the reasons they give for not having (or applying for) a student loan.


It is not the purpose of this section to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature assessing the factors related to PSE participation. This has recently been done elsewhere within the Canadian context (De Broucker, 2005; Junor & Usher, 2004; Looker, 2001; Looker & Lowe, 2001; Mueller, 2008a, 2008b), as well as the American context (Ehrenberg, 2004; Long 2005). Instead, we focus on the evolution of the literature on access to PSE in Canada and thereby situate the contribution of this paper.

As mentioned, much of the Canadian and international literature has focused on the impact of financial variables such as family income or tuition on access to PSE among young people. The accumulated evidence (e.g., Junor and Usher, 2004) suggests that the demand for PSE is relatively price inelastic, and although access does vary with measures of socioeconomic status (SES), it depends more on family background characteristics such as parental education than it does on family income. Also, evidence (e.g., Finnie & Laporte, 2003; Foley, 2001) suggests that a lack of interest in or desire for PSE is cited by most youths who do not participate in PSE. Among youths who are interested in PSE but have not accessed it, financing is a commonly reported barrier.

Overall, youths from families of higher SES, measured by either family income or parental education, are more likely to participate in PSE, university in particular; are more likely to complete their degrees; and take less time to finish (e. …

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