Future to Discover
Research shows that students from lower-income families and those whose parents have little or no education after high school are under-represented in post-secondary education (PSE) in Canada. Programs to tackle barriers to PSE must target these students, but the question remains of how best to support them. Will students be more influenced to pursue PSE by an early guarantee of financial support, or through enhanced career education to help them understand more about their academic and career options? Would the promise of financial help be more effective if combined with such enhanced career education? The Future to Discover (FTD) pilot project will answer these questions by testing the effectiveness of two interventions:
- Explore Your Horizons provides information about academic and career options (including labour market trends, costs, and financing of PSE), skills development, and support for career exploration and planning. Delivered over three years through workshops, a magazine, and a members-only Web site, Explore Your Horizons is offered in Manitoba and New Brunswick to students in all income groups.
- Learning Accounts provides an early promise of substantial financial support to students provided they are accepted into a recognized PSE program. Learning Accounts is offered to students in New Brunswick from families with incomes at or below the provincial median.
The intent of Future to Discover is to test the effectiveness of these interventions in improving access to PSE, particularly among youth who are disadvantaged by family income or educational background, both individually and in combination.
Future to Discover was developed by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, in partnership with the provincial governments of Manitoba and New Brunswick. Future to Discover offices were set up in each province to deliver the interventions. The Social Research and Demonstration Corporation (SRDC) is conducting the evaluation of the interventions.
The research design for Future to Discover is ambitious and complex. Similar to many other SRDC projects, Future to Discover is a social experiment, in which student volunteers are randomly assigned to program groups that receives one or both of the interventions, or to a comparison group. Because program and comparison groups are similar in all other respects, differences in students’ experiences can be attributed to the impact of the interventions.
Several different program and comparison groups were needed to test the effectiveness of the interventions (alone and in combination) separately for the two provinces, for two linguistic groups (in New Brunswick), and among students with higher or lower levels of family income and/or parental education. To secure a sufficient sample for analysis, students were recruited in two cohorts over successive years in New Brunswick.
Over 5,400 students were initially recruited to the project: 1,042 students in Manitoba, and 4,382 in New Brunswick, with the latter equally split between the Francophone and Anglophone education sectors. Assigned to receive Explore Your Horizons were 1,747 students (1,172 in New Brunswick and 575 in Manitoba); 1,097 lower-income students in New Brunswick were assigned to receive Learning Accounts.
For all these students, the main impact of interest is enrolment in any form of PSE (apprenticeships, private vocational institutions, university, or college), and completion of their first year of studies. Other outcomes of interest include students’ knowledge and attitudes towards PSE, and related behaviours, such as time spent on homework and graduating high school. Future to Discover also involves an implementation evaluation and a cost-benefit analysis.
Future to Discover was launched in 2004, and most participating students have graduated from high school. The delivery of Explore Your Horizons and Learning Accounts has been completed. In 2007, SRDC published Future to Discover Pilot Project: Early Implementation Report which documented the planning and first year of implementation of the pilot project. A second report entitled, Future to Discover: Interim Impacts Report, was published in November 2009. The second report evaluated the implementation of Explore Your Horizons and Learning Accounts, and presented findings on early outcomes. The Future to Discover: Post-secondary Impacts Report presents impacts on students’ enrolment in PSE and other post-secondary activities. It includes a cost-benefit analysis, and was published in November 2012. The latest results for New Brunswick were published in July 2016.
The Future to Discover pilot project was funded by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Funding is continuing under an agreement with the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.