Know Before You Go: Insights Into Post-Secondary Education

By Tracy Cassels


In Canada, a large majority of high school students go on to study in a post-secondary environment, whether it be college or university (CEGEP in Quebec). Official figures from Statistic Canada reveal that close to 2 million students were enrolled in a post-secondary program in 2011/12. Who are these people and what do they look like?  If you’re off to university next year, who can you expect to meet and what programs will they be in?


The Sex Divide

Well, start by knowing that you will likely see more women than men walking around campus. Women make up 56% of the national enrolment in postsecondary institutions, and the ratio is virtually the same in colleges (55.2%) and universities (57.2%).  However, once inside the university, sex differences are even starker, depending on the program of study.  Whereas women accounted for 66% of all university graduate degrees earned in 2011, the majority of these are in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.  For example, women made up 80% of graduates in health and education-related programs.  In the STEM fields, women are well-represented in science and technology (59% of graduates), but fall behind in engineering (23% of graduates) and computer science and math (30% of graduates).

Interestingly this doesn’t seem related to high school performance as even of the girls who scored well on PISA math tests, only 23% went into a STEM program compared to 46% of boys who scored well.  Scoring poorly on the PISA math test did predict a lack of enrolment for women as only 15% of girls who scored in the bottom 3 categories enrolled in a STEM program compared to 39% of boys.  The numbers tell the same story when just looking at high school grades in mathematics.


Popular Programs

Humanities is the most popular program, both at university and college (17.3% of university students and 20% of college students) followed closely by Business, Management, and Public Relations programs (17.1% university, 18.3% college).  Architecture, Engineering, and Related Technologies programs (8.6% university, 11.1% college) and Health, Parks, Recreation, and Fitness programs (11.4% university, 11.8% college) are also popular at both locations.

The programs that are more popular at universities include Education (6.7% of university students versus only 2.3% of college students), Social and Behavioural Sciences and the Law (17.1% of university students versus only 6% of college students), and Physical and Life Sciences and Technologies (7.6% of university students versus only 0.7% of college students).  On the flipside, if you’re interested in doing Personal Improvement and Leisure or Personal, Protective, and Transportation Services programs, you’ll be surrounded by more people at a college (Personal Improvement and Leisure: 2.8% of college students versus only 0.4% of university students; Personal, Protective, and Transportation Services: 4.8% of college students versus only 0.5% of university students).


What It’s Going to Cost

Well, once you’ve decided where you want to be and what you want to do, you have to consider what it’s going to cost you and to this there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that Canada remains one of the most affordable places for higher education, with tuition fees of full-time university for 2013/2014 averaging out to $5,772.  The bad news is that this is 3.3% higher than the previous year and it doesn’t look like increases will stop anytime soon.  The average tells one story, but the range tells another.  If you’re tight on cash, you’ll want to avoid Ontario (average $7,259) and Saskatchewan (average $6,394) while looking closely at Newfoundland and Labrador (average $2,644) or Quebec (average $2,653).

What program you choose will also dictate your fees.  Dentistry remains the most expensive major for undergraduates with an average tuition for one year at $17,324 followed by Medicine ($12,438), Pharmacy ($10,942), and Law, Legal Professions and Studies ($10,030).  Your cheapest option is Education ($4,378) followed by the Humanities ($5,079), Nursing ($5,103), Social and Behavioural Science ($5,107), and the Visual and Performing Arts, and Communications Technologies ($5,151).  However, outside of the four most expensive, every other program area comes in at under $6,900 on average.

So... now you know who is where and what they’re doing and what it costs.  What are your plans?

By Tracy Cassels

July 14, 2014