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“C” students not wanted

Few Ontario high schoolers with C averages go to university, says report


 

If you just graduated high school with an average of between 60 and 69 per cent and are attending university this fall, you are part of a very select group.

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario today released a report examining post-secondary participation rates in Ontario and the rest of Canada. Among the most glaring findings: only 4.8 per cent of students who graduate high school with a C average pursue university. That compares to almost 16 per cent of C-level Atlantic Canadians and 15.1 per cent of British Columbians who scored a C in high school but still pursued university.

However, nearly half of all Ontarians with a “C” high school average went on to attend college. That’s the second-highest college participation level in the country, only topped by Quebec’s participation rate. Quebec’s high rate of college enrolment is partly explained by the fact that in the province, high school ends in grade 11; students thereafter attend CEGEP for either university preparation (the equivalent of grade 12/13 in other provinces) or vocational diplomas.

Trent University economics professor Torben Drewes, who specializes in the economics of education and authored the study, said that it lends credence to the idea that Ontario universities simply have stricter entrance requirements.

“That result, the “C” student in Ontario … is consistent with the idea that Ontario universities are setting a higher bar … but that’s not definitive,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of information. A couple of people have alluded to it, but we have no real hard evidence.”

Drewes added that the study shows that by and large, those students who want to pursue post-secondary studies in Canada are able to do so. He pointed to the success of Ontario’s “double cohort” in 2003-04, when universities and colleges weathered a huge bulge in applications and enrolment. Drewes said that the province, its universities, and its colleges responded to any perceived “crisis” quite admirably.

“In the larger context, I think we should be pretty happy with the availability of spaces,” Drewes said.

The report also found that 70.6 per cent of Ontario’s high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 pursue some form of post-secondary education. That compares to 82.9 per cent in Quebec, 76.3 per cent in Atlantic Canada, 63.8 per cent in British Columbia, and 63 per cent across the Prairies.

As far as barriers to PSE are concerned, the report found that financial barriers posed the biggest problem for potential students. Only 20 per cent of Quebec students, however, claimed financial barriers to be an issue. Nearly as many (19.6 per cent) were simply uninterested in pursuing higher education. 28.8 per cent of students in the Prairies were uninterested, compared to 29.3 per cent who faced financial barriers.

Drewes was quick to point out that the study was by no means the final word on access to post-secondary education in Ontario, or anywhere else in Canada.

“The report is kind of preliminary to the real research that will go on now. It doesn’t have as many answers as it does questions,” he said.

The information in Drewes’ report was based on Statistics Canada’s 2002 Post-secondary Education Participation Survey.


 

“C” students not wanted

  1. Pingback: Dropping out for the oil rig : Macleans OnCampus

  2. I might be wrong, but when I read this article, I got the impression that Nick was thinking that only having 4.8% of C students go to university is somehow bad.

    C students probably shouldn’t be going to university as their academic performance indicates that they’re not qualified. A low number of C students in university isn’t a problem with accessibility. Accessibility should be about making sure that every _qualified_ person has access to the post-secondary system.

    Maybe I misread the tone of the article a bit. If so, I apologize. But I think there’s a growing assumption that “everyone” should be able to go to university if they want to, regardless of academic competency. This is problematic for a variety of reasons.

  3. Some notes:

    – I disagree with the generalization that “C students probably shouldn’t be going to university as their academic performance indicates that they’re not qualified.” Academic performance should not be an end in itself. Real world (i.e. post-academic) competence is what matters. Of course, some subjects, like language classes (for essay writing) a more or less obvious prerequisites for university enrollment. But whether someone had 50% or 80% in 11th-grad mathematics is hardly a predictor on how good they would be as a historian, a public relations officer, or a physiotherapist, to name only a few careers depending on post-secondary education. Conversely, mathematics is about the only high school subject which I would correlate with success in computer science.

    – “As far as barriers to PSE are concerned, the report found that financial barriers posed the biggest problem for potential students. Only 20 per cent of Quebec students, however, claimed financial barriers to be an issue. Nearly as many (19.6 per cent) were simply uninterested in pursuing higher education. 28.8 per cent of students in the Prairies were uninterested, compared to 29.3 per cent who faced financial barriers.”

    Knowing that Quebec has among the lowest university tuition fees (and free college education) and fairly good financial aid compared to Ontario (which shows the two are not reversely correlated), this is all but surprising.

  4. Drewes would tend to agree with Philippe. This is what he told the Star when they asked him about the report:

    “We need more data, but, on the whole, I believe universities should be open to as many students as possible – I’ve seen a lot of C-students come into university and grow into A-students by the time they leave.”

  5. Philippe: I have the feeling that we have very different views about the purpose of universities, but that’s a debate for a different day.

    In the meantime, I see your point about certain grades being unrelated to doing well in a chosen discipline. I was working on the assumption that a C student is generally getting a Cs across the board.

    Nick: Of course there are C students that have bloomed into A-students. The question for Drewes is how often does this happen. What’s the ration of C students that grow into A students to the ones that crash and burn. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t really tell us much, there will always be exceptions.

    I’m curious what people think should be used to determine whether an individual is qualified for university. If not grades, what shall be used? Bear in mind the resource constraints universities face. They have to sort through a mass of applications and determine who gets in and who does not.

  6. I think universities have many roles. But it’s a fair assumption that most of us will not spend their whole life in an academic setting, such that the ability to perform in an academic setting is not, in itself, a valuable asset. (Moreover, as I pointed out elsewhere, research in some disciplines, such as the sciences, require totally different skills than those evaluated at the undergraduate level, again making grades a poor predictor.)

    “I’m curious what people think should be used to determine whether an individual is qualified for university. If not grades, what shall be used?”

    Entrance exams are another way to do it, and they avoid the problem of comparing grades set by different institutions in different provinces/countries, etc. This is similar to the discipline-based GRE for graduate school in the US. They aren’t ideal alone by themselves, but they can be used as a second tool and as a way for some C students to “show” they are fit for that program.

  7. Lest we forget the very interesting Mcleans ariticle of September ’07 which pointed out that statistically high school is a place where former A students teach mostly B students so that they can go on to work for C students. Indicating that the most successful entrepreneurs and business people usually come from the latter group. The reasons for which I will leave the rest of you to discuss.

  8. Is there any solid evidence corroborating the almost anti-intellectual A/B/C student saying? I would be curious as to see a breakdown in how well off the average student in each category is. I guess you can easily point to C students in high places (say, George Bush), but a guy who comes off as a moron in a high place stands out more and is easier to remember than, say, a Rhodes scholar like Bill Clinton.

    Also, Macleans admitting that financial barriers are the biggest problem for potential students? You guys are slipping

  9. user: I think “anti-intellectual” is a wrong way to qualify criticisms of the grading system. I have no doubt that some people, by talent or training or whatever cause, will succeed better in academic or “intellectual” fields than others. But the question is whether grades are a good predictor of that.

  10. Well, maybe I was being a bit unclear about the “anti-intellectual” bit. It’s just that every time I’ve heard that saying, it was coming from a C student jealous that he isn’t doing as well as the A and B students and trying to justify it by taking shots at the A and B students in particular and the system in general.

    Granted, grades aren’t always a hard and fast predictor of success, and there are a lot of criticisms of the grading systems you can make, but I would be very surprised if there is an inverse relationship as the saying seems to imply, especially as we are moving towards a more knowledge and credential based economy.

  11. I moved to Ont from the US and have 4 step kids who are from Ontario. I am quite shocked no one knew this fact already.
    Canadian employers are more likely to hire a Canadian born kid, even without a high school diploma for jobs that you could not get witout a high school diploma or some post high school training in the US.
    If employers did not hire a dropout maybe high school and college attendance rates would increase.

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