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Groundbreaking Project Releases New Canadian Findings in Post-Secondary Education Research



TORONTO, ON —June 16, 2008 — The Measuring the Effectiveness of Student Assistance project, today, released the first set of working papers in a series of new research in the area of post-secondary education in Canada. These papers look at some of the overarching issues surrounding access and persistence as well as give readers a general overview of issues in PSE theory and empirical evidence.


The first paper by Ross Finnie (University of Ottawa) and Lorne Carmichael (Queen’s University) argues that family income affects access to post-secondary education through its effect on the greater hardship experienced by lower income students when they are in school. Based on empirical support, the authors develop a new model for access that also shows that poorer students would likely have a larger response to changes in cost than students from middle- or high-income backgrounds. As a result, they argue that different policy mixes of student financial aid are optimal for different types of students. In particular, they find that grants, rather than loans, are most optimal for encouraging low-income students to access PSE. These findings have important policy ramifications for Canada in the continued discussion of loans versus grants in student aid.


A second paper by Lesley Andres and Maria Adamuti-Trache at the University of British Columbia tracks the relationship between student aid and the educational and occupational outcomes of a cohort of British Columbia college and university students. The main finding of policy relevance is that a combination of adequate student financial aid and support services, including academic and career counselling, are necessary to timely degree completion and entrance into the workforce. The authors also found that women complete their studies faster than men, but incur higher debt.


The third paper, a literature review by Richard Mueller at the University of Lethbridge, surveys the state of knowledge regarding access to and persistence in PSE in Canada and the United States, with emphasis on the experiences of students from low-income families. This paper highlights the heretofore lack of literature and high quality data in Canada, emphasizing the importance of YITS and the research being conducted as part of the MESA project in the areas of access to and persistence in PSE.


These papers are currently available at


Background information on the MESA project
The Measuring the Effectiveness of Student Aid Project, or the MESA Project, is a four-year research effort being conducted through the Educational Policy Institute and the School for Policy Studies at Queen's University on behalf of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. It was designed to observe low-income students in post-secondary education over the period of three years and answer the following four questions:


  • After graduating from high school, teenagers coming from low-income backgrounds face a choice as to attend college or university, or not. For those who did attend, how do they compare to those who did not?
  • Does providing more funding in a student’s first few years of further education attract more low-income students to post-secondary education?
  • Does providing more funding in a student’s first few years of further education make it more likely for low-income students to stay in and graduate?
  • Are low-income students different across Canada?

MESA is a unique project in post-secondary education policy research in Canada through its creation of a new set of longitudinal data, which follows low-income bursary recipients in Canada over a three-year period.


In addition, the MESA project solicited papers from some of the leading Canadian researchers in the field of post-secondary education; it charged them to uncover and the as of yet wholly undiscovered Statistics Canada databases that cover these issues areas. In doing so, these papers not only greatly expand the panoply of writing in post-secondary education policy research in Canada, but also lay the groundwork for future research in these critical areas.



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The Educational Policy Institute is a 501(c)3 corporation based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with offices in Winnipeg, Canada, and Melbourne, Australia. The mission of the Educational Policy Institute is to “expand educational opportunity for low-income and other historically-underrepresented students through high-level research and analysis.” For more information on EPI or its evaluation work, visit