Student pathways through postsecondary education in Canada, 2010 to 2015
Every year from 2010 to 2015, more than 320,000 students enrolled in a postsecondary program in Canada. While most of these students successfully completed their studies and earned a certificate, diploma or degree, others dropped out or switched programs along the way.
This release includes seven data tables that show the pathways of postsecondary students over a five-year period. Students enrolled in five educational programs were studied: those working toward college certificates and diplomas, undergraduate degrees, master's degrees or doctoral degrees.
Over four-fifths of young undergraduate degree students were still in their program two years after enrolling
Just over 128,000 students aged 19 or younger enrolled full time in an undergraduate degree program in Canada in the fall of 2010. Women accounted for 58% of these new entrants, while 42% were men. The vast majority of these young students were Canadian (94%), while 6% were international students.
In 2011, one year after starting their undergraduate degree program, 89% of these students were still enrolled (persistent), continuing full or part time in the same program, while a small proportion (2%) continued their postsecondary studies but were pursuing a program other than an undergraduate degree. The remaining 9% were no longer pursuing a program in a public postsecondary institution in Canada one year after enrolling. These students may have switched to a private college or university, left to study outside of Canada, taken time off, or left postsecondary studies entirely.
In 2012, two years after initial enrolment, the persistence rate for undergraduate degree students fell to 83%.
According to a recent report (Education at a Glance, 2019), the average persistence rate among students who were still enrolled in a bachelor's or equivalent program after one year in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries ranges from 76% to 92%, with Canada close to the OECD average of 85%.
Overall, for students who enrolled from 2010 to 2014, persistence rates in undergraduate degree programs were consistently above 80% two years after enrolment.
Approximately 39,000 of the young students who started an undergraduate degree program in 2010 were enrolled in a STEM field. Women (43%) were less likely than men (57%) to enroll in a STEM undergraduate degree program, and had a higher rate of switching to a BHASE field of study after the first year (13% of women compared with 7% of men) (see note to readers).
However, women who stayed in STEM took less time to graduate from their undergraduate degree program (4.46 years), on average, than their male counterparts (4.73 years).
One year after enrolling in an undergraduate degree program, 89% of women and 87% of men were still enrolled. Two years after enrolling, the persistence rate fell to 84% for women and to 81% for men.
Although the 'typical' length of an undergraduate degree program is four years, program lengths vary, and many students take longer than four years to complete their degrees. For this reason, graduation rates for undergraduate degree students are measured at both four years, and six years (or 1.5 times the typical program length) after first enrolment.
Overall, fewer than half (40%) of students who started their undergraduate degree programs in 2010 graduated within four years. Nearly three-quarters (74%), however, had completed their degrees by the sixth year after first enrolment, and the average completion time was closer to four than six years. The average time to obtain an undergraduate degree was 4.49 years. Women took less time to graduate (4.41 years) than men (4.62 years).
Just over three-quarters of women (77%) had graduated from their undergraduate degree program after six years, compared with just over two-thirds of men (69%).
A small proportion—fewer than 3%—of students who started an undergraduate degree program in 2010 had graduated with an educational qualification other than an undergraduate degree after six years. This proportion was similar for males (2.6%) and females (2.7%).
Quebec and Ontario have the highest graduation rates among undergraduate degree students
In most provinces, with the exception of Quebec, fewer than half of undergraduate degree students had completed their programs by four years after first enrolment. This proportion increased by the sixth year after enrolment, ranging from 52% (Newfoundland and Labrador) to 76% (Ontario). While measuring the graduation rate six years after enrolment serves to capture the majority of graduations, the 'average time to graduation' measure shows that most students finish their undergraduate degrees within five years. Average time to graduation, for students in provinces other than Quebec, ranged from 4.37 years (Nova Scotia) to 4.83 years (British Columbia).
Among students in Quebec, 62% had obtained their undergraduate degree within four years, with the proportion increasing to 84% within six years. Quebec students took the shortest average time to complete an undergraduate degree program (4.03 years), likely reflecting differences in the province's postsecondary education system. The vast majority of students who enter undergraduate degree programs in Quebec have already completed the pre-requisite two-year Cégep pre-university diploma, after which the undergraduate degree programs are three years in length.
For more information on persistence and graduation of postsecondary students, see Persistence and graduation of postsecondary students aged 15 to 19 years in Canada: Interactive tool.
Students starting out in a college-level diploma program are the most likely to switch to a different educational program
Similar indicators related to graduation can also be examined for the approximately 31,000 students aged 19 or younger who enrolled full time in a college-level diploma program in the fall of 2010. Women accounted for over half of these college-level diploma students (55%), while 45% were men.
Among students who enrolled in a college-level diploma program in 2010, and ultimately graduated with a college-level diploma, the average time to graduate was 2.95 years. On average, women took 3.00 years to graduate, while men took 2.89 years.
However, many students who enrolled in a college-level diploma program in 2010 had not graduated with a diploma four years later. In 2014, four years after first enrolling in a college-level diploma program, just over half of the women (51%) in the 2010 entry cohort had obtained a diploma, compared with 46% of the men. Data from the Labour Force Survey show that a large proportion (around half) of college students aged 19 or younger work while attending school, which may also add to the length of time many students take to graduate. By way of comparison, about one-third of university students worked during their studies.
Among students who started a college-level diploma program in 2010 at the age of 19 or younger, 9% switched to a different program after one year. Another 8% graduated within four years with a different educational qualification than the one they started in, while 13% graduated with a different educational qualification after six years.
For those who enrolled in a STEM field of study in a college-level diploma program, 4% ended up switching and eventually graduated from a BHASE field of study four years after enrolment.
However, students who started in a BHASE field of study tended to persevere and graduate in BHASE. Just under 1% of those who started in a BHASE field of study had switched to, and graduated from, a STEM field of study four years after enrolment.
Six years after starting their college-level diploma program in 2010, 32% of students had not graduated, either with a diploma or some other credential, and were no longer pursuing a college-level diploma in a public postsecondary institution in Canada.
Note to readers
STEM includes fields of study in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and computer sciences. BHASE includes fields of study in business, humanities, health, arts, social science, education, legal studies, trades, services, natural resources and conservation. For more information on STEM and BHASE, see the Variant of the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) 2016 - STEM and BHASE groupings.
Data used for this analysis and related tables comes from the Postsecondary Information System.
Information for the 2010 cohort is available only for undergraduate degree and college-level diploma students 19 years and younger. For students 20 years of age and older, and/or those enrolled in other programs of study (doctoral and master's degrees), the first available cohort year is 2011. For more details, please refer to the technical reference guide Persistence and graduation indicators of postsecondary students, 2010/2011 to 2015/2016.
As the most recent academic year available in the time series is 2016/2017, persistence rates two years after first entry are available only for cohorts of students starting in 2010 to 2014.
Although the tables released today include information on persistence and graduation of undergraduate degree students in STEM/BHASE fields of study, a detailed analysis on this topic is not presented here. For information on graduation and persistence rates among undergraduate students in STEM, see the recent study: Persistence and representation of women in STEM programs.
Information for the territories is not included in this article. The first entry cohort available for analysis in the Territories is 2013/2014 for students 19 years or younger, and 2014/2015 for students 20 years and older. The available time series is therefore not long enough to produce graduation rates or average time to graduation for college-level diploma students (the only educational qualification covered in this release, for which data are available in the Territories).
As a result of limited data availability, the Ontario college data could not be used for any years from the 2009/2010 up to 2016/2017 academic years (inclusive). This gap has an impact on national-level indicators for college-level certificates and diplomas, as well as undergraduate degrees. It also affects the records of students who begin a college-level program outside of Ontario and then complete it within Ontario. Statistics Canada is working toward obtaining missing data so that the Ontario colleges may be included in future releases.
Data definitions and concepts
The 2010 entry cohort includes students who are newly enrolled full time in either an undergraduate degree program or college-level diploma program in the fall of 2010. These students were under 20 years of age as of this enrolment year.
The persistence rate is defined as the percentage of the entry cohort that is continuing postsecondary education and still enrolled, full time or part time, in subsequent years after first entry.
The graduation rate, measured at a given number of years after the fall of first enrolment, is the percentage of an entry cohort that had completed their specified educational qualification within that time.
The average time to graduation represents the average number of academic years new students in a given level of education take to complete the educational qualification. The total time to graduation for each student is measured by counting the number of academic years elapsed between their year of first enrolment and the year of their graduation.
College-level diploma: refers to a career, technical or professional training diploma in the Classification of programs and credentials.
Pre-university diploma: This category includes diplomas for postsecondary programs that prepare students for undergraduate studies but are not undergraduate programs. This includes university-stream diplomas from colleges and Cégeps in Quebec.
The technical reference guide entitled Persistence and graduation indicators of postsecondary students, 2010/2011 to 2015/2016 is now available.
The data visualization tool entitled Persistence and graduation of postsecondary students aged 15 to 19 years in Canada: Interactive tool is also available.
The infographic entitled "Staying the course: Persistence and graduation of postsecondary students in Canada," which is part of Statistics Canada – Infographics (11-627-M), is also available.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).