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Study: Obtaining a bachelor's degree from a community college: Earnings outlook and prospects for graduate studies

Released: 2019-09-09

Bachelor's degree holders generally earn considerably more than workers with no degree. However, bachelor's degrees have traditionally only been available from universities, which are less accessible to rural residents than colleges are.

Since the late 1980s, some colleges have begun offering bachelor's degree programs. Overall, 4.3% of all bachelor's degrees have been awarded by colleges. Until now, very little was known about the benefits of obtaining a bachelor's degree from a college rather than a university.

A new Statistics Canada study finds that the average annual earnings of college bachelor's degree holders two years after graduation were $55,187. This was 12.0% higher than the earnings of university bachelor's degree holders ($49,281), 42.5% higher than those of college diploma holders ($38,726), and 38.2% higher than those of college certificate holders ($39,935).

Almost all of the earnings advantage that college bachelor's degree graduates held over university bachelor's degree graduates can be explained by the fact that college bachelor's degree graduates were more likely to select fields of study associated with high pay—at least early in their career. For example, 38.1% of college bachelor's degree graduates studied business, management and public administration (disciplines associated with high pay), compared with 21.0% of university bachelor's degree graduates.

Overall, differences in field of study choices accounted for 89.0% of the pay gap between the two groups of graduates two years after graduation. The remainder of the earnings gap can be explained by the fact that college bachelor's degree graduates were more than two years older than university bachelor's degree graduates.

Although the fields of study chosen by college bachelor's degree holders appear to have benefited them very early in their career, they were not associated with faster earnings growth in subsequent years. In fact, the average annual earnings of university bachelor's degree holders grew by about $3,000 more than those of college bachelor's degree holders between two and five years following graduation. None of this difference in earnings growth was related to differences in field of study choices.

The study also found that 11.9% of university bachelor's degree holders enrolled in a graduate program within two years of obtaining their bachelor's degree. In contrast, 2.5% of college bachelor's degree holders enrolled in a graduate program within the same period. Almost half of this difference was related to the fact that university bachelor's degree holders were more likely to select disciplines that are highly associated with the pursuit of graduate studies, such as humanities and physical and life sciences and technologies.

Sustainable development goals

On January 1, 2016, the world officially began implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—the United Nation's transformative plan of action that addresses urgent global challenges over the next 15 years. The plan is based on 17 specific sustainable development goals.

The study "Obtaining a Bachelor's Degree from a Community College: Earnings Outlook and Prospects for Graduate Studies" is an example of how Statistics Canada supports the reporting on the global sustainable development goals. This release will be used to measure the following goal:

  Note to readers

The study examined the annual earnings and graduate study enrolment rates of college and university bachelor's degree holders from Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia (which account for almost all college bachelor's degrees awarded). Individuals graduated from their program between 2010 and 2013 and were followed two and five years after graduation. The focus of the study was annual T4 wages and salaries (reported in 2015 constant dollars), as well as graduate study enrolment (namely, in a master's or doctoral degree program). The data were primarily drawn from the Postsecondary Student Information System, as well as the T1 Family File.

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The research paper "Obtaining a Bachelor's Degree from a Community College: Earnings Outlook and Prospects for Graduate Studies" which is part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series, is now available.

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca).

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Marc Frenette (613-864-0762; marc.frenette@canada.ca), Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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