CANADA: Increasing student aid does little to boost graduation

Increasing student grants seems to offer governments a means of attracting more students to university but it does little to help increase the numbers who graduate, according to a just-released Canadian study.

The paper, written by the University of Quebec at Montreal's Matthieu Chemin, shows that despite more students receiving grants and the size of grants increasing during student finance reform by the government of Quebec, graduation rates in that province showed no difference when compared to those in a control-group province, British Columbia, and in the rest of the country.

The report, part of the Measuring the Effectiveness of Student Assistance (MESA) project, a 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, used data from the Canadian government's Youth in Transition survey, accessing details from 23,000 18 to 20-year-olds.

The report focused on the 2001-02 year, one that marked an increase in the number of people in Quebec receiving needs-based student grants. Recipients increased from 5% of students in the province who earn annual salaries of less than C$20,000 (US$18,500) to 14%. The amount recipients earned also went up, by an average of C$1,965 per year.

While that increase seemed to fuel a 5% enrolment spike in the province among the same income set, graduation rates did not see the same change.

Chemin compared Quebec's graduation rates following the reform to those of British Columbia, a good candidate province against which to be compared. During the reform years of 2001-02, the west-coast province, like Quebec, froze tuition fees but it did not increase its student grant programme.

The results showed that Quebec graduation rates did not outperform those in BC. When compared to the rest of Canada, they also showed no difference.

"These results therefore cast doubt on the efficacy of this reform in particular, and of needs-based grants in general, to improve graduation rates," the author wrote.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations reacted to the report with a call to not forget how important needs-based grants were to students saddled with debt from student loans

"Missing from this study is the effect needs-based grants have on student debt," CASA wrote in a release. "For every dollar that a student receives in the form of a needs-based grant, it is one less dollar they will need in student loans."

Student debt in Quebec is significantly lower than in the rest of Canada, with the averages being C$13,000 and C$28,000, respectively, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.