Toronto: The Frontier Centre for Public Policy today released University Participation Rates and Tuition Fees in Canada: An Inter-Provincial Analysis. This policy study uses Statistics Canada data to empirically assess the validity of claims that rock-bottom tuition levels lead to higher rates of university participation for young adults from low income families. The authors show that there is no positive correlation across the Canadian provinces between lower tuition fees and higher levels of university participation for low-income youth. In other words, the data show that young adults from low income households in the provinces with the lowest tuition levels are no more likely to attend university than young adults from similarly low-income households in provinces with much higher tuition rates.
Key Findings Include:
- On average, university participation rates are no higher in lower-tuition provinces compared to higher-tuition provinces.
- The data show no positive correlation between low tuition levels and high rates of university participation in the specific case of youth from families in the bottom quarter of the income distribution. In other words, young adults from low-income households in low-tuition provinces do not tend to be more likely to participate in university than young adults from similarly low-income households in high-tuition provinces.
- In Canada taken as a whole, the university participation rate for young adults from low-income families was 36.6 percent in 2007, the most recent year for which this data is available.
- Ontario and Nova Scotia, two of the highest-tuition provinces in Canada, had the very highest rates of university participation for youth from low-income families. Ontario’s low-income participation rate was 42.5 percent in 2007, and Nova Scotia’s was 42.7.
- Low-tuition provinces Quebec and Newfoundland had the lowest rates of university participation in Canada for young adults from low-income families at 30.6 and 30.1 percent respectively.
- Low-tuition Manitoba’s participation rate for low-income students was almost identical to the national average, at 36.7 percent. This low-income participation rate was almost identical to neighbouring Saskatchewan’s (37.5 percent) – despite the fact Saskatchewan’s average tuition is approximately 50 percent higher than Manitoba’s.
- Equality of access to provincial university systems is no better in the low-tuition provinces than in other jurisdictions. In all provinces, high school graduates from high-income families participate in university at higher rates than those from low-income families. However, that gap is smaller in several high-tuition provinces including Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan than in the Quebec, Manitoba and Newfoundland where tuition is much cheaper.
- For example, in high-tuition Ontario young adults from families in the top 25 percent of the income distribution were 34 percent more likely to participate in university than young adults from families in the bottom quarter of the distribution. In high-tuition Saskatchewan, the gap was 49 percent. In low-tuition Manitoba, by comparison the gap in university participation rates between youth from high- and low-income families was much larger, at 94 percent.
“Student unions and other organizations that support very low university tuition levels often claim that rock-bottom tuition will lead to higher rates of university participation and greater equality of access across the family income distribution,” says report co-author, Ben Eisen.“The evidence that we looked at for this study, however, provides no support whatsoever for such arguments.” Mr. Eisen commented that “university participation rates for young adults from low-income families tended to be just as high in the provinces with high-tuition rates as in provinces like Manitoba, Newfoundland and Quebec where average undergraduate tuition fees are much lower.” Mr. Eisen noted that at a certain point, very high tuition levels can significantly discourage university participation, but that even the highest-tuition provinces in Canada do not appear to have reached that level. “The policy choice that’s been made in provinces like Manitoba to maintain very low tuition levels is costly to taxpayers. The question we’re interested in is whether the provinces that have taken this route have managed to achieve higher levels of low-income university participation than provinces like Ontario, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan where tuition fees are set much higher. The evidence presented in this study shows that they have not.”
Download a copy of University Participation Rates and Tuition Fees in Canada: An Inter-Provincial Analysis HERE.
For more information and to arrange an interview with the study's authors, media (only) should contact:
Frontier Centre for Public Policy