Recent evidence from two Canadian experiments to increase access to higher education for disadvantaged youth

July 05, 2016

Ottawa, July 5, 2016 – Today, Social Research and Demonstration Corporation releases new results for two demonstration projects testing programs intended to increase post-secondary education enrolment among youth traditionally less likely to pursue education beyond high school.

The two projects, Future to Discover and Life After High School BC, were conducted as randomized trials – adopting highly-rigorous methods to evaluate program impact. The two projects together involved the participation of close to 10,000 students in three provinces.


1. Future to Discover

Future to Discover included two program interventions that were tested separately and in combination:

  1. Explore Your Horizons, consisting of career education workshops run after school in Grades 10, 11, and 12, and

  2. Learning Accounts, providing grants of up to $8,000 to pursue post-secondary studies, contingent upon successful completion of each year of secondary school.  

Future to Discover began testing these interventions with two successive Grade 10 cohorts in New Brunswick and Manitoba. The original study, funded by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation and completed in 2012, followed participants through their second year after high school. In 2013, the government of New Brunswick requested that SRDC follow participants in that province for an additional four years.

The report released today tracks the students to their fifth and sixth post-secondary years. Earlier results showed that each intervention and the combination of the two interventions significantly increased post-secondary enrolment among groups of students traditionally less likely to continue their studies beyond high school. With additional years of data, the analysis now goes beyond the impact of these interventions on enrolment, and looks at their impact on rates of post-secondary graduation.

The impacts on post-secondary graduation differed for the two programs, corresponding to their earlier impacts on enrolment. Learning Accounts (the early promise of an $8,000 grant) had greater impacts on college enrolment rates, where programs are generally shorter in length. The impacts on graduation were exceptional: Learning Accounts almost doubled the post-secondary graduation rate (from 17 to
31 per cent) for “first-generation” students whose parents’ education included at most completing only high school.

Explore Your Horizons (career education workshops) induced more students to enroll in university programs, which are typically longer in length. However, there are no significant impacts as yet on post-secondary graduation rates, even at the sixth year after high school.  

The study will continue to track education outcomes to 2017 when the final report should additionally include the labour market outcomes of offering these programs.

Read the 2016 release: Future to Discover Sixth Year Post-secondary Impacts Report.

The 2012 Future to Discover Post-secondary Impacts Report includes more background on the project.


2. Life After High School BC

SRDC worked with Professor Oreopoulos of the University of Toronto to develop a much shorter high school intervention called Life After High School intended to increase access to post-secondary education for Grade 12 students.

Theories from behavioural economics suggested that some youth faced barriers in accessing post-secondary education – such as inertia, disinterest, and lack of ready support – that could be overcome by “nudging” or changing the default so that all students are encouraged to apply to a post-secondary program and for student aid during scheduled class time.

With financial support from Employment and Social Development Canada, SRDC first tested this new “nudge” program model across 50 British Columbia high schools with the lowest transition rates to post-secondary education in 2011. In three workshops during school time, all graduating Grade 12 youth were encouraged to choose a post-secondary program, apply online for it at no cost, and complete a student aid application. The initial results released in 2013 were not as encouraging as expected, noting only small increases in university enrollment (especially for males) and more students in receipt of student financial aid.

Max Bell Foundation generously supported further analysis to find out whether students were motivated to access post-secondary education later by staying on in high school for an extra year or longer. The report released today tracks students three years out of high school. Earlier noted impacts of the program were confirmed, alongside longer-term results:

  • Overall, the program did not increase post-secondary graduation up to three years on from high school (typically capturing community college but not university graduation). However, for key subgroups, including those students typically predicted as not likely to go on to post-secondary education, post-secondary graduation rates increased significantly.

  • Positive impacts were concentrated in the schools where attendance to the workshops was highest, pointing to the importance of the approach taken in delivery for program success.

Two additional Life After High School projects were launched in Ontario in 2011 and 2013, before the original post-secondary results of the BC project had been obtained. Early lessons learned from the BC implementation informed improvements to the models implemented in Ontario. SRDC anticipates the release of results from these projects later in 2016.

Read the report: Long-term impacts of supporting all students leaving high school to apply to college or university.


For more information on Future to Discover or Life After High School BC, please contact:

Reuben Ford (English inquiries)                              Jean-Pierre Voyer (French inquiries)
Research director, SRDC                                             SRDC President and CEO
604-601-4082                                                                   613-237-3169
rford@srdc.org                                                                 jpvoyer@srdc.org