Caribbean students least likely to pursue higher education, says immigrant study

A new study of Toronto high-school immigrant students shows that first generation immigrants, particularly those of East Asian background, are most likely to attend university, while Caribbean students are least likely to attend a postsecondary institution or even graduate from high school.

The study, “Post-High School Pathways of Immigrant Youth“, was commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The research team included York’s Paul Anisef, professor emeritus of sociology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

In its 2010 budget, the Government of Ontario proposed to raise Ontario’s postsecondary attainment rate to 70 per cent.  “Nearly three quarters of new jobs will require some form of postsecondary education,” says Harvey Weingarten, president & CEO of HEQCO. “The challenge for Ontario will be to meet this need. The best opportunity to do that is to increase the participation and attainment rates of under-represented students; unfortunately, not all under-represented groups are enrolling in postsecondary education at equal rates.”

The study tracked a group of Grade 9 students from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) beginning in 2000 and continuing until 2006.

Unlike previous studies of immigrant students’ educational attainment, this report compares the profiles of students both by their region of origin and their generational status. Just 20 per cent of students in Toronto have both parents born in Canada, while 42 per cent are foreign-born (first generation immigrants) and 38 per cent are born in Canada of immigrant parents (second generation immigrants).

The report reveals that Caribbean students are least likely to attend a postsecondary institution or even graduate from high school; 45 per cent of students dropped out of the TDSB and only 12 per cent confirmed admission to a university. African students are also less likely to attend postsecondary education (PSE).  However, English-speaking Canadian, Caribbean and African-born students were most likely to go to college. And more than 70 per cent of East Asian students went on to university, followed by European students at 52 per cent.

Students from single-parent families are further disadvantaged, although this can largely be attributed to low income, which continues to pose an impediment to PSE.

Overall, first generation immigrants were more likely to opt for university than were second generation immigrants who, in turn, were more likely to make this choice than the third generation or native-born. In contrast, acceptance to college was considerably less dependent on geographic origin. In general, these findings confirm other research indicating that recent immigrants tend to view PSE as a means of social and economic mobility.

The study suggests that increased career planning and guidance at the high-school level could increase the number of students from under-represented groups pursuing PSE as the current lack of vocational guidance and information contributes to indecision among some students who then delay entry into a postsecondary institution.

Student application numbers and the rate of PSE completion would improve by smoothing the transition between elementary and high school – implementing a program that concentrates on basic literacy skills, such as reading, writing and quantitative reasoning. Community involvement in schools would result in more comprehensive and effective programming for immigrant youth. Current initiatives in the TDSB region include The Settlement Workers in Schools program, which assists students and parents attempting to navigate the Ontario school system for the first time.

In addition to Anisef, the other investigators on this study were: Professor Robert Sweet of Lakehead University; Rob Brown of the Toronto District School Board; Professor David Walters of the University of Guelph; and Kelli Phythian of the York District School Board.