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Pathways from Seneca College’s Liberal Arts Transfer program: From college entrance to university graduation

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

March  2017 | Executive Summary | Full Report

Studies on college-to-university transfer typically focus on a discrete aspect of the pathway such as who aspires to transfer, who transfers and why, or outcomes after transfer to university. In contrast, this paper focuses on the entire pathway, using the Liberal Arts Transfer (LAT) program at Seneca College as a case study.


The analysis sample included 3,622 entrants who began the LAT program at Seneca in 2005–2012, and 1,268 LAT students/graduates who transferred to York University’s degree program in 2002–2012. The study used a comprehensive, student-level dataset to examine the progression to graduation from LAT, propensity to transfer, and post-transfer outcomes at York. Regression models (OLS) were run to control for the independent effects of a range of sociodemographic and academic variables.  


Progression to graduation from LAT:Higher grades in high school (particularly in university preparatory courses) and college-level English at entry were important influencers. More than three-quarters of LAT entrants had a high school average below the minimum required for university entry, and nearly half did not place in college-level English. Many of them continued to struggle academically when they entered college. Over one-half left Seneca without a Seneca credential or without transferring to York.

Propensity to transfer to York University:A Seneca GPA above 3.0 increased the likelihood of transfer to York by over 40 percentage points, the largest influence of all variables. Parental education, first language, and status in Canada differed little across pathways. Previous university, gender, age, and year of entry had little or no effect. However, aspiration for university upon entry was higher for both graduates and non-graduates who transferred to York.

Post-transfer outcomes at York: Those who graduated from LAT before transferring had more transfer credit and were stronger academically at York. Graduates of the articulated LAT stream were the most likely to graduate from York (76%), had the highest grades, took less time to complete, and were more likely to complete a four-year than a three-year degree program. High school grades, first language, and English-language placement at college entry were unrelated to academic success at York. There was a clear relationship between grades at Seneca and performance at York, irrespective of graduation or articulation status at Seneca.

Conclusions & recommendations

Under LAT’s current admission standards, entrants require only an Ontario high school diploma and Grade 12 English. More than three-quarters of LAT entrants have a high school average below 70% and nearly half do not place in college-level English at entry. Yet some rise to meet the challenge, and successfully transfer to York and graduate. Any review of admission standards will need to ensure that students with poor performance in high school or in previous post-secondary, have a viable pathway to university.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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From high school to graduation and beyond: Pathways of young immigrants in a Toronto college

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

January  2017 | Executive Summary | Full Report

Young immigrants who come to Canada have not been well researched, yet they are the next generation of workers upon whom Canada will increasingly rely. This study examined the pathways of immigrant students at a large multicultural college in Toronto, and the role of English-language skills and region of birth on their academic and labour market outcomes.

The study followed the pathways of 18,466 students (non-international) who entered Seneca College between 2010 and 2014, within five years of leaving an Ontario high school. Of these, 29% were born outside of Canada, with over two-thirds originating from Asia, 14% from the Americas (outside Canada), 11% from Europe, and 6% from Africa. Of those not born in Canada, the vast majority (71%) were Canadian citizens when they entered Seneca.

 Region of origin, Seneca entrants, 2010–2014

pie graph

Using a longitudinal database that links a number of data sources, the study tracked the progress of individual students from the beginning of high school through to graduation from college and their eventual transition into the labour market or to further education.

The study’s overall research question was: In a large multicultural college, what is the role of immigrants’ region of origin and English-language proficiency on academic and labour market outcomes?


Seneca students who were born outside of Canada are more likely than their Canadian-born peers to have highly educated parents, live in lower-income neighbourhoods, and to aspire to university.

Yet despite having attended an Ontario high school, many immigrants come to Seneca with weak English-language skills requiring support in language proficiency, with 59% being placed below college level English, compared to 36% of Canadian born students. Despite this, they obtain similar overall GPA, and graduation rates. Students from East Asia were the exception, despite entering with the lowest language proficiency, they also were the most likely to graduate.

Independent of region of birth, students who entered college with lower English-language proficiency were less likely to graduate and more likely to obtain lower grades.

Having high grades and taking university preparatory courses in high school was the largest predictor of student success in college. Lower-income students achieved lower grades, but were as likely to graduate as others; male students were less likely to graduate, and obtained lower grades.

In the labour market, graduates with lower language skills at college entry also had higher unemployment rates, and earned less. In addition, the unemployment rate six months after graduation was 25% for those born outside of Canada, versus 14% for those Canadian-born.  This result also held true in the regression analysis, even when controlling for language proficiency at college entry.  However, for those who are employed wages and job alignment were similar for both groups.

With the exception of immigration status, unemployment rates were not significantly affected by college GPA, first language, or any of the academic or sociodemographic factors. However, graduates with lower overall grades were less likely to be in a job related to their program of study, and more likely to be overqualified.  For hourly earnings, females and those from lower-income neighbourhoods earned less. College grades did not have a significant effect on earnings.


Colleges need to be prepared to support highly diverse students with varying levels of English-language proficiency. More than 50% of Toronto’s population comprises individuals born outside of Canada, a figure that is expected to continuously increase in the coming years. Policy is urgently needed to ensure that current and future generations of immigrants, in high school and post-secondary, have the language skills, competencies, and social and financial supports required to succeed in further education and the labour market. 

This research was supported by the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Human Capital Research and Innovation Fund.

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A qualitative study of the York-Seneca transfer experience

Authors: Henry Decock & Katherine Janzen
Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

December  2016 | Executive Summary | Full Report

This qualitative research on the decision-making and transfer experiences of students who moved between Seneca College and York University (in both directions) affirms what previous studies have shown:  Students recognize the perceived value of having a combination of college and university education.

However, the use of focus groups comprised of Seneca and York students elicited a more nuanced understanding than is typically possible with the results from open-ended surveys. The student discussions revealed that multiple factors influence their decision to transfer, the transfer experience itself, and their perceptions of the structural changes required to improve the transfer process.   


Six focus groups were created, comprised of graduates and early leavers randomly selected from a database of students transferring between Seneca and York. Separate focus group discussions were conducted for Seneca students attending York and York students attending Seneca.


Students transfer because they want to improve their economic prospects and recognize the perceived value of having both a university and college education, i.e., theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Participants affirmed the important role of formal transfer agreements and specific scholarships, but cited the need for structural improvements to make the experience of transfer easier.

Orientation sessions are considered to be a motivating factor because they help prospective transfers to understand what they will likely experience as an incoming student. However, a significant barrier remains, namely identifying a college/university staff member who can answer questions about transfer. Access to a staff person dedicated to the needs of transfer students was cited as a solution.  

Participants emphasized that the eligibility criteria for transfer is too restrictive. They noted that high school and college performance is not the ideal or sole measure of student ability, that a student’s family circumstances at the time, or poor academic fit, can mask true capacity. Intangible measures, such as being highly motivated to pursue a chosen career, can strongly influence academic success.

Parental pressure to attend university, whether real or perceived, is a factor in transfer. Parents reportedly value a university education more so than a college one, manifesting in students’ initial choice of destination, or as a rationale for transfer.

Feelings of confidence play a critical role in supporting transfer decisions, particularly among students who transfer from college to university. For those who did not succeed at their previous institution, college success builds confidence in their academic ability, especially if the initial program was  perceived to have been a poor fit. Encouragement and recognition by faculty serve to increase student confidence. Increased confidence ultimately results in efforts to pursue other educational opportunities.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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The impact of labour market and policy changes on university transfer: The case study of Early Childhood Education

Authors: Ursula McCloy, Mitchell Steffler, Henry Decock
Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

November 2016 | Executive Summary | Full Report

Ontario colleges predominantly offer occupation-specific programs geared to the labour market rather than further education. Nevertheless, Early Childhood Education (ECE) is a two year diploma program that prepares graduates directly for the labour market but also historically has had a high transfer rate to university. Using the ECE program in Ontario as a case study, the interaction between the labour market and transfer to university was studied.

Several changes have occurred in the ECE profession in Ontario that have the potential to alter a student’s decision to transfer. These include the establishment of the College of Early Childhood Educators in 2008, the phase-in of full-day kindergarten (FDK) between 2010 and 2014, the reduced demand for certified teachers, and the introduction of ECE-related college degrees in 2008. Therefore, the overarching research question for this study is: How have the recent labour market and policy changes affected transfer to university for ECE graduates?

The study revealed transfer trends at both the provincial and student level, combining sociodemographic and academic data on Seneca ECE entrants from 2002 to 2014 with provincial-level data on the employment outcomes of ECE graduates from 2007 to 2014. The study ran multiple regression models to determine the independent influence of any individual factors on the propensity to transfer.  


Provincially, an analysis of transfer rates for 2007 to 2014 shows a significant decline in transfer for Ontario ECE graduates from 17% in 2007 to 6% in 2014. Concurrently, hourly wages, when adjusted for inflation, have increased by 8% between 2007 and 2014 for ECE graduates, compared to a drop of 6% for non-ECE graduates. Meanwhile, labour market demand for ECE graduates in Ontario remains high with an unemployment rate (6 months after graduation) of 8% in 2014, half the rate for all Ontario college graduates.

Percentage of ECE and non-ECE Ontario graduates transferring to university, 2006–07 to 2013–14


At Seneca, from 2009–10 to 2014–15, plans for university after graduation for ECE entrants decreased from 59% to 35%, whereas plans for employment after graduation increased from 26% to 46% over the same period. An increasing number of younger students and those without previous university have been changing their intentions for transfer, deciding instead to enter the labour force after graduation.

Plans for post-graduation, Seneca’s ECE entrants, 2008–09 to 2014–15


Overall, aspirations for university after graduation and graduating since 2010, independent of demographic characteristics, were the most important influencers of transfer to university. However, ECE is progressively attracting older students with previous university experience, and these new entrants are more likely to aspire to enter the workforce after graduation than to attend university.

Those with aspirations for university, younger students, and those with higher Seneca grades were more likely to transfer. Higher college GPA increased the likelihood of transfer, but neighbourhood income, high school grades, and course selection were insignificant influencers.

The effect of the introduction of ECE related college degrees can be seen in the Seneca- York transfer data. In 2007, 27% of Seneca’s ECE graduates continued on directly to York University, dropping to 8% by 2014. In contrast, in 2007, 2% of Seneca graduates continued on in Seneca's Bachelor of Child Development degree, vs 14% who did so in 2014.


This study of Seneca ECE graduates demonstrates that the decline in transfer is largely the result of external influences such as the recent changes in the ECE regulatory and labour market environment.  

Over the last few years, ECE transfer rates have declined dramatically, but labour market opportunities in ECE have increased. The decline in transfer likely indicates the improved outcomes for students rather than a decrease in the performance of ECE transfer partnerships.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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