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Transfer Pathways to University for Ontario College Graduates with a Disability: An analysis of transfer rates and the student experience

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

March 2019 | Executive Summary | Full Report

It is well understood that students with a disability are somewhat less likely to attend postsecondary, and if they do attend, are far more likely to choose college than university. With Ontario’s recent increase in the number of transfer opportunities between colleges and universities, determining whether students with a disability are taking advantage of college to university pathways is of great interest. This study compared the transfer rates and the transfer experience of Ontario college graduates who did and did not report a disability. This study included all Ontario college graduates from certificate or diploma programs during 2014-2016. The data used was from the Graduate Satisfaction Survey, administered six months after graduation.


Of the over 100,000 respondents, 11% reported having a disability, and 9% indicated they used disability services. Whereas college graduates who reported a disability were slightly less likely to report having transferred to university, (5.9% vs 6.3%) they were much more likely to continue on in a college program (25% versus 19%).


Graduates with a disability are more likely to transfer between college community service programs and university social sciences programs, and are less likely to transfer between business, engineering and related programs. Of those who transfer to university, information sources used to aid transfer and reasons for transfer did not differ by reported disability status. However, transfer students reporting a disability are somewhat less likely to be satisfied with the transition experience (76.7% vs 80.8%) and slightly less likely to be satisfied with their academic preparation compared to those who did not report a disability (82.6% vs 85.2%).


In general, although differences in transfer rates and satisfaction with transfer is lower for graduates reporting a disability, the differences are marginal. This almost equal utilization of the college to university pathway by college graduates with and without a disability is likely an indication that it could be a way to increase access to university for students with a disability.

  1. Future college to university pathways could be developed with special considerations for students with disabilities.
  2. Increased coordination of services and support across academic advising, disability services, and transfer advising both within and between colleges and universities.
  3. Increase laddering from shorter to longer credentials, which are more likely to be eligible for transfer pathways to university.
  4. Colleges who offer bachelor degrees could also focus on laddering programs into their degrees for college students who report a disability (both internal and external).

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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The Changing Patterns of College-to-University Transfer: Examination of Ontario’s Graduate Satisfaction Survey 2007–2015

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

December 2017 | Executive Summary | Full Report

The ability of Ontario college students to transfer to the university sector in the province has been an ongoing issue for many years, with slow and steady progress toward a more seamless postsecondary education system. Although previous research has identified segments of the population that are less likely to enter university directly, less is known about transfer to university from within the college student population. The current study tracks college-to-university transfer in Ontario over time and analyzes the changing patterns, the factors associated with those changes, and graduates’ satisfaction with the transfer experience.

This report describes provincial trends in college transfer to university using data from the Ontario College Graduate Satisfaction Survey (GSS) for the years 2007 to 2015. The study tracked the volume of graduates moving between college and university, and their characteristics and experience of transfer. Of the 694,379 graduates, 444,451 participated in the GSS, for an average response rate of 64%.

Transfer Rates
  • The overall percentage of college graduates furthering their education has been fairly stable at approximately 26%. However, the percentage transferring to university has decreased, declining from 8% of graduates in 2007 to 5.5% of graduates in 2015. When graduate certificate and college degree programs are excluded from the analysis, the transfer rate declines from 8.3% of graduates in 2007 to 6.3% of graduates in 2015. Factors that may have contributed to this trend include: the increased number of students, particularly international students, entering college with a previous degree; the increase in pathway options to a degree, such as college degree programs and access programs in university; increased student spaces in universities due to shrinking demographics; and greater awareness of the career options for graduates with a college credential (non-degree).
  • Major shifts in regional transfer rates occurred over time. In 2007, Metro Toronto and the surrounding Central Region had much higher transfer rates compared to the rest of the province. By 2015, their rate were similar to those of other provincial regions.
  • When the amount of transfer is weighted to enrolment, the Northern universities are receiving a much larger share of transfer students compared to other Ontario universities.
  • Ontario college graduates who are less likely to transfer to university are female, older, international, originally from neighbourhoods that are low-income or where English is the first language, and graduate from a college campus beyond a commuting distance to university. Graduates who report a disability are slightly less likely to transfer, and Aboriginal students are equally as likely to transfer.
  • Graduates of advanced diploma and community service and preparatory/upgrading programs are more likely to transfer. Transfer largely occurs within related fields of study.
Transfer Experience
  • Overall, satisfaction with the university transfer experience has remained stable since 2007.
  • Graduates who transfer for academic or program related reasons are more satisfied with their transition experience versus those who transfer to advance their careers or employment outlook.
  • Transfer credit that either meets or exceeds expectations significantly influences satisfaction with the transition experience.

The study of transfer rates, the transfer experience, and trends over time is a complex endeavor, particularly in the context of shifting demographics, a dynamic postsecondary environment, and changing labour market demand. Further research should focus on the role of college-to-university transfer for groups traditionally underrepresented in university and on the effectiveness of current transfer agreements to support students.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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Seneca College’s Degree and Credit Transfer Office: A Profile of Users and an Examination of Outcomes

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

December 2017 | Executive Summary | Full Report

Seneca College is a recognized leader in the field of student transfer and pathways, with a large number of articulation agreements and comprehensive student advising, advocacy and assessment services. Seneca established the Degree and Credit Transfer Office (DCTO) in 2001 after an investigation showed that 44% of college entrants were planning to pursue further education (36% at a university) after graduation and yet few services existed to support them in achieving their goals. Previous reviews of the DCTO have focused on students’ use of the Centre’s flagship publication, The Degree Transfer Guide. The current study aims to build on this research to understand which segments of the Seneca student population use the DCTO services and whether DCTO usage is associated with higher rates of transfer and better transfer experiences. 

Part 1 of this study creates a profile of students who use the DCTO advising services and compares this group to the student population that does not use the DCTO, with variables including sociodemographic and academic backgrounds at college entry, motivations for college program selection, aspirations for university, and academic outcomes (graduation rates and grades). The sample comprises 59,942 students who entered Seneca between the summer of 2007 and the fall of 2014 and whose first program was not a degree or graduate certificate program. Visits to the DCTO were captured up until October 13, 2016.

Part 2 of the study compares the transfer rates to university of DCTO users and non-users, and captures differences in their transfer experiences, reasons for transfer, sources of information on transfer, and satisfaction with the transition experience. The sample is a subset of the Part 1 sample and comprises 13,607 Seneca graduates who had completed the Ontario Graduate Satisfaction Survey.

Younger students, females, and those with a parent with a degree were somewhat more likely to use the DCTO, whereas Canadian citizens were less likely. Additionally, DCTO users had slightly stronger high school academic backgrounds. Even when controlling for these differences, DCTO users obtained much higher grades and graduation rates than non-users, likely because they were highly motivated to obtain the grades and, often, the credential required to transfer, and possibly because they benefit from DCTO advising services as well as referrals to academic advising.

Students who used the DCTO services were more likely to have entered a three-year advanced diploma program (47% vs. 30%) and a program area with a large number of transfer agreements (such as business, at 53% vs. 35%).

The reasons for transferring to university were similar between users and non-users, with career advancement and obtaining a credential cited for almost nine in ten transfers. DCTO users are more likely to make use of a variety of information, particularly college sources such as the transfer guide and hard copy publications. Graduates satisfaction with the transition experience (83%) and their academic preparation for transfer (87%) is high for both DCTO users and non-users with little difference between the two groups.

The most significant and positive finding is the high transfer rates to further education, and specifically to university, for students who use the DCTO advising services. Overall, 44% of DCTO users transferred to university within six months of graduation compared to 10% of graduates who did not use the DCTO. This difference held true even when controlling for differences in academic performance, student aspirations and a variety of other factors. Of those who aspired to university at college entry, half of DCTO users compared to 22% of non-users transferred to university.

The provision of outreach may be necessary for students navigating program pathways with few or no articulation agreements. Outreach is needed for those at the start of their program who are interested in transfer (as indicated in the entering student survey) and for program areas in which DCTO users are underrepresented. Since graduates often transfer to university with a career focus in mind, a focus on career opportunities associated with transfer pathways is also warranted. Emphasizing the value of the DCTO and advisement service to faculty, staff and service areas across the college also continues to be a priority.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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Which College Students Transfer to University? The Role of Parental Education and Neighbourhood Income

Centre for Research in Student Mobility, Seneca College

January 2018 | Executive Summary | Full Report

It is well understood that access to university varies considerably by parental education and neighbourhood income, whereas college tends to be accessed more equitably. One option proposed to reduce this imbalance is the college to university transfer pathway. This study compares college students' university aspirations at entry, graduation rates, and transfer outcomes across socioeconomic status (SES) groups. SES groups were created by combining categories of parental education (university educated vs first generation) and neighbourhood income. The analysis combines administrative and survey data at Seneca College from 2007 to 2014, to track 36,054 college entrants from high school until six months after college graduation. Research questions include the following:

    1. How do background characteristics in the college sample differ by income and parental education and what is the role of these factors in influencing a student’s aspirations for transfer to university?
    2. What is the role of parental education and neighbourhood income in influencing transfer to university?
    3. For those who do transfer to university, do transfer information sources differ across first generation and income groups?

Of these college entrants, 44% aspire to go to university and 14% of those who graduate transfer to university within six months. Aspirations at entry and transfer after graduation vary considerably by SES group, as do academic preparation, language ability, and program of entry. Overall, 49% of college entrants with university-educated parents planned to attend university after college compared to 43% of students without university-educated parents. However, students from higher income neighbourhoods proved no more likely than their peers to aspire to transfer. Students who were low income but with university educated parents were the most likely to have plans for university.

Transfer to university was 3% points higher for college graduates who had a parent with a degree than those who did not, an affect that held when controlling for demographic factors and grades. In contrast to parents’ education, this study showed that rates of transfer did not differ by income. When combined categories of income and education were compared, graduates who were both low income, but had at least one parent with a degree, were 4% points more likely to transfer than students who were low income and did not have a university-educated parent. The graduates with the highest grades who aspired to go to university are the most likely students to transfer. Other factors such as program of study are also important in explaining transfer propensity.

Although previous research has shown that the initial decision to attend college or university is influenced by parental education and income, university transfers differ only slightly from their college peers by these socioeconomic characteristics. Within the college population, college performance and aspirations for transfer are more important than sociodemographic factors on transfer rates, indicating this pathway may be more merit- and motivation-based. As well, the preliminary finding that transfer students who are lower income or do not have a university educated parent rely less on their parents and family and rely more on college advising services for information, underscores the role institutions can play. This suggests that facilitating and encouraging college to university transfer, as well as supporting students academically to ensure they qualify, may be a vehicle to reduce the socioeconomic inequity in university attendance in Ontario.

Funded by the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer

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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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