While more and more Canadians are going on to post-secondary education, a study of teens in 100 schools in the Toronto School Board has found little change in the proportion of “special needs” students accepting invitations to attend university.
A main goal of the study, published in the August issue of the Canadian Review of Sociology, was to determine factors that enhance or hinder access to post-secondary education for students with Special Education Needs (SEN).
Rather than examining the underlying factors in isolation, the authors examined how race and ethnicity interact with gender and economic status to differentiate post-secondary pathways over the life-course.
It was found that, in the three years after high school graduation, only 16% of students with SEN accepted offers to attend university, as compared with 56% of non-SEN students. Intriguingly, the study also found that the reverse was true for colleges, where just 15% of non-SEN students accepted invitations to enroll but 25% of SEN students confirmed attendance.
The researchers were surprised to learn that self-identified black students without SEN who are in the academic stream have half the likelihood of attending university or college as compared with their non-black peers without SEN. Similarly, self-identified black students in the applied stream also have half the likelihood of attending university or college as do their non-black peers.
The study concludes that, while across Canada the provinces “have unreservedly emphasized” growth in post-secondary education, especially university enrolment, more discussion is needed “around the invisible barriers that prevent various subsections of the population from taking part.” As the study notes, SEN is only one such barrier.