Students from lower-income families more likely to seek post-secondary education as a result of new innovative programming

November 30, 2009
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SRDC released a report which shows that offering career education and an early guarantee of financial aid to high school students can have significant impacts on their interest in post-secondary studies.

The Future to Discover Interim Impacts Report provides the latest update on a project positioned to help Canada tackle two policy challenges it faces in the near future. These are the joint challenges of providing optimal futures to its less-advantaged youth, while overcoming a predicted shortage of skilled workers. Post-secondary education is a requirement for a majority of jobs in today’s labour market, and although Canada enjoys one of the highest rates of post-secondary education (PSE) attainment in the world, these high rates of attainment are not shared by all Canadians. Those from lower income families and those who would be first in their family to attend PSE (first-generation students) are significantly less likely to continue into higher education after high school. Future labour market growth for Canada may depend on increasing PSE access among these groups.

Future to Discover
 tested two new approaches designed to encourage lower-income and first-generation students to access post-secondary education by starting early in high school to overcome one or both of two potential barriers: a lack of adequate information about the benefits of PSE and a perceived lack of financing to afford it. In response to these barriers, two new programs were designed for testing: Explore Your Horizons andLearning Accounts.

Explore Your Horizons
 offered enhanced career education workshops in the last three years of high school to Grade 10 students. SRDC has found that among lower-income, lower-education families, Explore Your Horizons

  • increased from 32 to 47 per cent the proportion planning to apply to university, as seen in Francophone schools in New Brunswick;
  • increased from 45 to 55 per cent the proportion strongly recognizing that they needed to keep studying after high school to achieve what they want in life, in both Manitoba and Francophone schools in New Brunswick;
  • increased from 36 to 54 per cent the proportion reporting familiarity with student financial aid, as seen in Anglophone schools in New Brunswick; and
  • reduced from 22 to 10 per cent the proportion foreseeing a financial barrier standing in the way of their post-secondary aspirations, as seen in Manitoba.

Learning Accounts promised lower-income New Brunswick students entering Grade 10 an $8,000 bursary for post-secondary education. Among first generation students, Learning Accounts

  • increased from 40 to 52 per cent the proportion strongly recognizing that they needed to keep studying after high school to achieve what they want in life, in Francophone schools; and
  • increased from 87 to 96 per cent the proportion with aspirations to achieve a post-secondary credential, in Anglophone schools.


The report presents the interim impacts of Future to Discover, based on the analysis of data collected up until the point when the participants completed high school. The project is being evaluated using an experimental research design. Over 5,400 students from 51 high schools in New Brunswick and Manitoba were randomly assigned to a program group or comparison group. Because the two interventions were being tested both independently and together, the random assignment of students was to one of four groups: Explore Your HorizonsLearning Accounts, both Explore Your Horizons andLearning Accounts, or  a comparison group. All groups of students are tracked through time, and their educational outcomes compared to one another through data collected from surveys and school records. The main outcomes of interest are graduation from high school, enrolling in PSE and persisting through their first year of PSE. Many interim impacts are also of interest and presented in the report, including planning for PSE, attitudes towards education, and knowledge of financial aid. The benefit of employing an experimental design for the evaluation is that the change in the outcomes of the participants receiving the program, relative to the outcomes of the comparison group, can be attributed reliably to the program under test.

A full account of the longer-term impacts of Future to Discover – in particular, whether or not participants go on to post-secondary education – will be possible when the school records data and surveys of the participants for 2009 and 2010 are analyzed. A final report in 2011 will include a benefit-cost analysis to determine whether the Future to Discover interventions are a net benefit to participants, governments, and society as a whole. It is anticipated that the benefit-cost estimates will be of particular interest to policy-makers as they are faced with decisions about how to spend limited government funds. Through rigorous evaluation, Future to Discover is providing much-needed knowledge to inform the selection of programs that deliver the most benefit to Canada’s economy and support all youth in having the opportunity to achieve their potential.


For information on FTD
Reuben Ford (English inquiries)
Research Director
604-601-4082 | rford@srdc.org 

Heather Smith Fowler (French inquiries)
Senior Research Associate 
613-237-7444 | hsmithfowler@srdc.org