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The Effect of Tuition Fees on Post-secondary Education in Canada in the late 1990s


  • Maud Rivard
  • Mélanie Raymond


Tuition fees increased rapidly in the 1990s in most Canadian provinces raising concerns about access to post-secondary education. This paper examines the role of tuition fees in explaining participation in college and university programs from 1997 to 1999 in all provinces except Quebec and Ontario. Differentiated responses to tuition fees by family income and grades are explored. Information on participation patterns of high school graduates is derived from the new Youth in Transition Survey. Other datasets provide approximate measures of tuition and of respondents’ family earnings. The analysis suggests that PSE choices were not particularly sensitive to either tuition fees at their current levels or to family earnings at the time of enrolment. By contrast, academic preparation and parental education were critical in determining whether students enrolled in PSE and which type of program they chose. These conclusions hold for the whole sample as well as for students from low-income families or with average grades. Three interpretations are possible for the lack of influence of tuition fees: 1) government student loans were able to meet the growing financial needs of most students; 2) the wage premium associated with PSE may have increased sufficiently in the late 1990s to offset the higher tuition fees; and 3) academic rather than financial barriers at the time of enrolment are perhaps what most prevent low-income students from attending PSE programs (e.g. no high school diploma), particularly at the university level. Les frais de scolarité au collège et à l’université ont augmenté substantiellement au cours des années 90 dans la plupart des provinces canadiennes. L’augmentation des frais de scolarité remet en question l’accessibilité aux EPS en général et à l’université en particulier. Cette étude examine le rôle des frais de scolarité dans les décisions de participation au collège et à l’université entre 1997 et 1999 dans toutes les provinces sauf le Québec et l’Ontario. Leur influence est aussi analysée pour des sous-groupes de revenu familial et de moyenne académique. L’information sur la participation aux études postsecondaires des jeunes diplômés du secondaire est extraite de la nouvelle Enquête auprès des jeunes en transition. Les mesures de revenu familial et de frais de scolarité sont tirées de sources additionnelles. L’analyse suggère que les décisions postsecondaires n‘étaient pas sensibles aux frais de scolarité à leur niveau actuel ni au revenu familial au moment de l’inscription. L’éducation des parents et la préparation académique constituaient par ailleurs les principaux déterminants de la poursuite d’études postsecondaires et du choix de programme. Les mêmes conclusions s’appliquent à l’ensemble de l’échantillon qu’aux étudiants de familles à faible revenu et à ceux ayant des notes moyennes. Trois interprétations des résultats liés aux frais de scolarité sont possibles : 1) les programmes fédéraux et provinciaux de prêts et bourses pourraient avoir réussi à répondre aux besoins grandissants de financement des étudiants; 2) l’avantage salarial associé à des études postsecondaires pourrait avoir cru suffisamment dans les années 1990 pour compenser la hausse des frais de scolarité; enfin, 3) la barrière empêchant les étudiants moins favorisés de poursuivre des études postsecondaires, particulièrement à l’université, est possiblement davantage d’ordre académique (ex. pas de diplôme secondaire) que liée à des contraintes financières au moment de l’inscription.

Suggested Citation

  • Maud Rivard & Mélanie Raymond, "undated". "The Effect of Tuition Fees on Post-secondary Education in Canada in the late 1990s," Working Papers-Department of Finance Canada 2004-09, Department of Finance Canada.
  • Handle: RePEc:fca:wpfnca:2004-09

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    Cited by:

    1. Chi, Wei & Qian, Xiaoye, 2016. "Human capital investment in children: An empirical study of household child education expenditure in China, 2007 and 2011," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 52-65.
    2. Frenette, Marc, 2005. "Is Post-secondary Access More Equitable in Canada or the United States?," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2005244e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
    3. Pierre Lefebvre & Philip Merrigan, 2008. "Family Background, Family Income, Cognitive Tests Scores, Behavioural Scales and their Relationship with Post-secondary Education Participation: Evidence from the NLSCY," Cahiers de recherche 0830, CIRPEE.

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