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Research Article

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Investigating Transfer Pathways and Early Workforce Earnings Trajectories in Ontario: Insights from Statistics Canada's ELMLP Data Linkages

April 2024

Authors: Terry Yip (Nipissing University), David Zarifa (Nipissing University), Roger Pizarro Milian (University of Toronto), Avery Beall (Nipissing University)

Project photo

Executive Summary

As the higher education sector evolves and implements new supports and articulation agreements for transfer students, it remains critically important to continually monitor the early workforce earnings of new graduates and how these outcomes vary across transfer pathways. As such, this research brief makes use of new survey and administrative data linkages available in Statistics Canada’s Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP). We draw upon the nationally representative 2015 cohort of the National Graduates Survey (NGS) linked to additional educational characteristics from Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS) administrative files as well as T1 Family File (T1FF) tax data.

These unique linkages allow us to bring together the richness of the sociodemographic and educational experience measures available in the NGS, the construction of multiple transfer pathways derived from the PSIS administrative files, and the real earnings trajectories of graduates across their first few years in the labour market via the T1FF tax files. Specifically, our analyses shed light on the early earnings trajectories of graduates who took one of five key postsecondary pathways: 1) non-transfer college (NTC), 2) non-transfer university (NTU), 3) university-to-university (UU), 4) college-to-university (CU), and 5) college-to-college/university-to-college (CC/UC). Taken together, this study provides a renewed exploration of the earnings differences for recent postsecondary graduates across Canada, with a particular emphasis on the Ontario context.


  • Program pathways, course transfer, and prior learning

Why it Matters

Workforce earnings vary among graduates based on several sociodemographic and educational factors. Significant gaps persist in understanding the early career earnings of graduates, with studies providing varied findings in relation to the question of how the workforce earnings of transfer students compare to direct entry graduates. To measure this, the study leverages unique data linkages from Statistics Canada’s Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP) to provide a comprehensive assessment of graduate earnings trajectories for the 2015 cohort of Canadian postsecondary graduates. The findings not only contribute to understanding initial workforce earnings among graduates in the Ontario context but also provide valuable insights for policymakers and educational institutions aiming to enhance the support and effectiveness of transfer pathways, with the goal of reducing discrepancies in workforce earnings among graduates. This report further identifies a need for continued efforts in Ontario and across Canada to support transfer students through new educational frameworks and agreements. 

Key Findings

In Ontario, graduating from university pays off: direct entry university graduates earn the most, followed by university-to-university transfer graduates, then college-to-university transfer graduates. 

Graduates from university all show higher relative earnings in comparison to college graduates (non-transfer college and college-to-college/university-to-college graduates). 

In the first year following graduation, university-to-university transfer graduates yield the highest earnings ($42,600). Unlike Canada as a whole, college-to-university transfer graduates show the second highest earnings ($39,200), followed by non-transfer university graduates ($34,000), non-transfer college graduates ($29,400), and college-to-college/university-to-college transfer graduates ($25,200). Interestingly, while the earnings trajectories for the Ontario graduates differ in comparison to the Canada-wide analyses, by 2019, university-to-university and non-transfer university graduates show the highest earnings ($55,600 and $55,800 respectively). College-to-university graduates in Ontario drop to third-highest by 2019 ($51,200), and non-transfer college graduates maintains an earnings premium over college-to-college/university-to-college transfer graduates over time ($43,900 vs. $40,500).  

Regression analyses confirmed this pattern. In comparison to non-transfer college graduates, university-to-university, college-to-university, and non-transfer university graduates consistently earn significantly (p < .001) more in the workforce. At times over the period of study, college-to-college/university-to-college graduates also show some modest but statistically significant earnings premiums in comparison to non-transfer college graduates. Additionally, the gap between all university graduates and all college graduates widens over time. 

Policy Implications and Recommendations

Ultimately, the earnings gaps that remain four years into the workforce among graduates in Ontario are not related to transfer pathways but appear to be attributable to whether graduates obtained a university or a college education.  

Because there are no long-term earnings penalties for college-to-university transfer graduates in Ontario, the authors suggest that the province (and Ontario postsecondary institutions) should continue to bolster college-to-university pathways and articulation agreements. This recommendation could be especially impactful since in 2016 only 1% of transfer students in Ontario followed the college-to-university pathway compared to 8% in Canada overall.