On Campus

"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.