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Is High School Streaming Connected to College-University Pathways?

July 17, 2023 Partners: Toronto Metropolitan University Authors: Tianna Thompson

We know that many learners take less conventional pathways through postsecondary education and that credit transfer significantly helps by getting them where they want to go, faster. In particular, pathways from college to university (2+2 arrangements) are an attractive option for students hoping to save money in the process or whose academic performance precludes them from direct admission to university.

However, recent research has uncovered that students who hold a college credential and aspire to university are more likely than their counterparts to be Black, have a disability, come from a single-income or low-income household, and be the first person in their family to attend postsecondary education (Henderson & McCloy, 2019). Because a similar socio-demographic pattern exists in high school streaming practices in Ontario, the authors of a study funded by ONCAT investigated the role of streaming in students’ postsecondary aspirations. In Understanding the Motivations of Ontario Students’ College-to-University Pathways, the authors ask whether academic streaming influences students’ choices regarding their educational journey. 


They conducted a survey of 300 participants who took college-university pathways and were enrolled in an Ontario high school after 1995, when the current system of streaming was introduced. They also conducted interviews with 15 of these participants. The study finds no significant differences in high school course selection between their survey sample and the general high school population, suggesting that high school streaming was not a strong influence on their decision. However, about one in five of those who went to college and later to university indicated that college was the only post-secondary option available to them at the time they applied to college.

Qualitative interviews reveal that learners chose to enroll in college because of family influence, a preference for college learning, or because they had limited pathway options available to them (due to low GPA scores, for example). They said they took college-university (CTU) pathways because of a personal desire to expand their knowledge, supplement their professional development, or because these pathways are generally more accessible.

While participants did not identify streaming as a reason for attending college or taking a CTU pathway, low high school academic performance nonetheless presented a barrier to these learners accessing university. The authors note that participants may internalize various aspects of the streaming process, leaving them unaware of its impacts on their decisions, and interviews suggest that students have lower academic confidence that may have led them to choose college first.

The authors note that Ontario has mandated a single-stream format for Grade 9 courses beginning in September 2022, while streaming will remain in place at the Grade 10 level. Future research should explore whether this change alters rates of secondary enrolment in university or college preparatory courses or reduces the number of students who feel their post-secondary options are limited.

Table 5: Motications of College-to-University Survey Respondents


To learn more, read the full report here