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Research Article

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Student Loan Outcomes of Ontario Transfer Students

June 2021

Authors: David Walters (University of Guelph), Rob Brown (York University), Gillian Parekh (York University), Dylan Reynolds (University of Guelph),Trisha Einmann (University of Guelph), Danielle Bader (University of Guelph)

Project photo

Executive Summary

One of the main drivers of transfer pathway development across various jurisdictions has been the potential cost savings or ‘efficiencies’ of seamless transfer. Broadly speaking, improving credit recognition shortens time-to-completion for transfer students, saving them both time and money. And, with respect to vertical transfer more specifically—meaning the movement of students from community colleges to universities—it is assumed that savings are to be had through the completion of courses at the cheaper community college rate.

Surprisingly, there has been very little work done within Ontario to ground these assumptions about the link between transfer and savings. For the most part, such assumptions are based on ‘back of the napkin’ calculations (e.g., Trick, 2013; Snowdon & Brady, 2014) about the price of credentials through various educational pathways (e.g., 2+2 vs. 4-year direct-entry). These exercises necessarily simplify the problem at hand, producing tables with hypothetical estimates of the price of credentials—typically a 4-year degree—within popular fields. A key limitation of this approach is that it fails to consider the messiness of pathways and numerous factors that influence their price for students.

To improve our understanding of this topic, in 2019 ONCAT funded the creation of a custom administrative linkage between Toronto District School Board (TDSB) records and various datasets within Statistics Canada’s Education and Labour Market Linkage Platform (ELMLP). This includes the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), T1 Family Files (T1FF), and the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP) files. We commissioned Drs. David Walters (University of Guelph), Robert Brown (York University), and Gillian Parekh (York University) to utilize these records to examine the relationship between traveling various pathways through Ontario PSE and student debt accumulation. The goal of this work is to produce a more refined understanding of borrowing patterns across direct entry and transfer pathway types, net of important demographic and program characteristics.

A first report from this project examines the relationship between various pathways and a) the propensity of students to borrow from the CSLP, as well as b) the amount borrowed. This report draws exclusively on province-wide data within the ELMLP environment.

A second report, scheduled for release in the Summer of 2021, will examine these same relationships drawing on the full TDSB-ELMLP linkage. Though focusing solely on a Toronto-centric group, a significant advancement made through this work is that it will be able to control for a range of demographic and academic information captured at the K-12 level.


  • Student decisions, experiences, and outcomes
  • Program pathways, course transfer, and prior learning
  • Transfer assessment, application, and administration
  • Equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility
  • Public policy