Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: Gender

May 17

Diversity in Canada Research Chairs

One of the hot topics in Ottawa over the past couple of months is the issue of increasing diversity among researchers.   Top posts in academia are still disproportionately occupied by white dudes, and the federal minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, would like to change that by threatening institutions with a loss of research funding.

There’s no doubt about the nature of the problem.  As in other countries, women and minorities have trouble making it up the career ladder in academia at the same rate as white males.  The reasons for this are well-enough known that I probably needn’t recount them here (though if you really want a good summary try here and here).  There was a point when one might reasonably have suspected that time would take care of the problem.  Once PhD completion rates equalized (until the 1990s they still favored men) and female scientists began making their way up the career ladder, it might have been argued, the problem of representation at the highest levels would take care of itself.  But it quite plainly hasn’t worked out that way and more systemic solutions need to be found.  As for Indigenous scholars and scholars with disabilities, it’s pretty clear we still have a lot of pipeline issues to worry about and equalizing PhD completion rates, in addition to solving problems related to career progression, is a big challenge.

Part of what Ottawa is trying to do is to get institutions to take their responsibilities on career progression seriously by getting them each to commit to equity plans.  Last October, the government announced that institutions without equity plans will become ineligible for new CERC awards; earlier this month, Kirsty Duncan attached the same condition to the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.

(A quick reminder here about how the Chairs program works.  There are two types of awards: Tier 1 awards for top researchers, worth $200,000/year for seven years, and Tier 2 awards for emerging researchers, worth $100,000/year for five years.  There are 2000 awards in total, with roughly equal numbers of Tier 1 and Tier 2 awards.  Each university gets an allocation of chairs based – more or less – on the share of tri-council funding its staff received, with a boost for smaller institutions.  So, University of Toronto gets 256 chairs, Université Ste. Anne gets one, etc.  Within that envelope institutions are free to distribute awards more or less as they see fit.)

The problem is, as the Minister well knows, all institutions already have equity plans and they’re not working.  So she has attached a new condition: they also fix the demographic distribution of chair holders so that they “ensure the demographics of those given the awards reflect the demographics of those academics eligible to receive them” by 2019.  It’s not 100% clear to me what this formulation means. I don’t believe it means that women must occupy 50% of all chairs; I am fairly sure that the qualifier “of those eligible to receive” means something along the lines of “women must occupy a percentage of Tier 1 chairs equal to their share of full professors, and of Tier 2 chairs equal to their share of associate and assistant professors”.

Even with those kind of caveats, reaching the necessary benchmarks in the space of 18-24 months will requires an enormous adjustment.  The figure I’ve seen for major universities is that only 28% of CRCs are women.  Given that only about 15-18% of chairs turn over in any given year, getting that up to the 40-45% range the benchmark implies by 2019 means that between 65 and 79% of all CRC appointments for the next two years will need to be female and probably higher than that for the Tier 1s.  That’s certainly achievable, but it’s almost certain to be accompanied by a lot of general bitchiness among passed-over male candidates.  Brace yourselves.

But while program rules allow Ottawa to use this policy tool to take this major step for gender equality, it will be harder to use it for other equity categories.  Institutions don’t even really have a measure of how many of their faculty have disabilities, so setting benchmarks would be tricky.  Indigenous scholars pose an even trickier problem. According to the formula used for female scholars, Indigenous scholars’  “share” of CRCs might be 1%, or about 20 nationally.  The problem is that only five institutions (Alberta, British Columbia, McGill, Montreal, Toronto) have 100 or more CRCs and would thus be required to reserve a spot for an Indigenous scholar.  An institution like (say) St. FX, which has only five chairs, would have a harder time.  It can achieve gender equity simply by having two or three female chairs.  But how would it achieve parity for Indigenous scholars?  It’s unlikely it could be required to reserve one of its five (20%) spots to an Indigenous scholar.

Many institutions would obviously hire Indigenous faculty anyway, it’s just that the institutional allocations which form the base of this program’s structure make it difficult to achieve some of what Ottawa wants to achieve on equity and diversity.


February 05

The Dilemma of Western Education in Saudi Arabia

I see that Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne recently took offense to the fact that Algonquin College is operating a male-only vocational college in Jazan, Saudi Arabia, calling the arrangement “unacceptable”.

What should we make of this?

First of all, let’s be clear about women and higher education in Saudi Arabia.  There are a lot of them; in fact, far more women attend post-secondary education than men in the country.  They just don’t – for the most part – attend the same campuses.  Often campuses get “twinned”, so you get male and female universities quite close to one another – sometimes taking the same courses from the same instructor, only with the women watching via cctv, and so in effect having a distance learning experience.

Aside: I did some work for a bridging-program for an outfit associated with the country’s only undergraduate co-ed university, Al-Faisal University, which was launched a few years ago.  It was “co-ed” in the sense that men were allocated the bottom two floors of the building, while women were allocated the top two floors.  Classrooms were on the second floor, but also had balconies that could be entered from the third.  So men and women could both be in the same room as the teacher, but could not see each other because they were on separate floors (there are some photos here if you want to get a sense of this).  This was deeply weird, but does represent progress in a way.

With respect to vocational training, what the Saudis did was to set-up 37 of these “community colleges” – 19 for men and 18 for women.  They then sent out tenders to colleges all around the world to run these campuses.  Algonquin won a bid for a men’s college; they bid on, but did not win, the right to run a women’s college.

So, the question is: morally, should Algonquin be running this school, or not?  Is it OK to run single-sex schools in Saudi Arabia?  My feeling is that the debate is between an uncomfortable yes and a mostly hypocritical no.

Obviously, it would be better all around if the education were co-educational.  Other campuses in the region have moved towards a co-ed model.  My understanding is that when College of the North Atlantic started running its campus in Qatar, there were discussions about whether the campus would be co-ed (the eventual saw-off: classes are co-ed, but eating and recreational facilities are single-sex).  But Qatar is Qatar, and the Kingdom is the Kingdom, and the only place where co-ed is allowed are in select private institutions sponsored directly by members of the royal family (i.e. KAUST, Al-Faisal), not in public institutions.  Basically, what you’re left arguing is that these kids are going to get taught in single-sex schools anyway, and if someone is going to teach them, it might as well be a bunch of folks from the Ottawa Valley.

The con case is, essentially: “it’s wrong to teach single-sex, and we shouldn’t muddy our hands with it”.  And fair enough.  But there are two places where this argument is vulnerable to a hypocrisy charge.  First, imagine Algonquin had won a competition for a women’s college but not a male one, or that it had won both competitions.  Would the Ontario government still be upset?  Unlikely.  So the objection is not to working in a segregated single-sex environment, but rather to working in one-half of it.  So should Algonquin have quit its male college contract when it didn’t win the women’s contract?  That’s just silly.

The larger hypocrisy case has simply to do with our attitude towards Gulf States as a whole, and Saudi in particular.  Let’s face it, it’s not education specifically that grates our consciences in dealing with these countries: it’s the whole regimentation of clothing, prohibition on driving, patriarchal she-bang, etc.  But either we’re consistent in our application of disgust, or we’re not.  Premier Wynne specifically chose not to contest the rightness of Canadians selling armoured personnel carriers to the Kingdom (which I suspect may infringe upon quite a few rights if they get used in Yemen); why apply our disgust to some areas of trade policy, but not others?

As you can probably tell, I lean a little bit towards the pro-side here, though I acknowledge it’s complicated and quite messy.  I think an equally important consideration, though, is whether the project is actually a good deal for Algonquin.  Note that, at the moment, they are losing money on the deal.  And although they maintain they’re on-track to make that money back over the course of the contract, my worry would be that the Saudi government starts “re-interpreting” contracts as their budget woes worsen.  I get the impression this may have been on Centennial College’s mind when they recently chose not to re-up their apprenticeship training contract in the Kingdom.

Still, it’s always good to be mindful of the tricky ethics of international education.  The situation is often far from straightforward.

January 05

Canadian College Athletics

Morning, all. Good holidays?

I spent a part of my break in Venice, California (when not writing about higher education, I am in fact The Dude). What hits you full in the face when in the US at this time of year is the ubiquity of college football. I could regale you with tales of US college athletics, but others do it far better than I could: I recommend Charles Clotfelter’s Big-time Sports at American Universities, or if you’re looking for something shorter, this NYT article from last week is not bad.

What’s amazing to me is not simply the size of the college sports enterprise, but also the degree of regulation that goes along with it. Much of this regulation is of course devoted to trying to keep college athletes from claiming any part of the income they are generating for schools and the NCAA through their athletic prowess (Taylor Branch’s classic 2011 article in the Atlantic is pretty good on this). The complexity of the rules designed to stop outsiders (agents, boosters, memorabilia collectors, anyone really) from providing them with “unearned remuneration” can seem quite hilarious to Canadians – our college football teams are completely unregulated in this regard, which is why Laval’s football team is essentially paid for by a furniture company magnate.

A fair bit of the rulebook comes in the name of gender equality. For decades now, a part of the Higher Education Act known as Title IX has required institutions to offer equitable opportunities to play sports and that they offer scholarship opportunities to men and women equal to their participation. That doesn’t mean equal participation and scholarships, exactly: Men are 57% of all registered NCAA athletes, and receive 54% of the $2.1 billion in athletic scholarships on offer (recall that men only make up 45% or so of undergraduates). The gap has been closed over the years (see this excellent piece from the Women’s Sports Foundation) largely by encouraging growth in women’s sports rather than, as sometimes claimed, reducing the spots available to men.

The question (for me at least) then becomes: how well is Canada faring on the same metrics?

In terms of athletic opportunities (i.e. spots on varsity teams), the total count is 11,601, up about 15% since 2001-2. Men represent 54% of all the athletes today, the same proportion as a decade earlier (despite men only representing about 44% of the undergraduate class).

Scholarships have grown much faster than athletic opportunities. In fact, athletic scholarships have probably grown faster than any other component of university spending in Canada over the past decade. In 2000-01, Canadian universities gave out $2.4 million in scholarships to 2060 students (avg = $1165 per scholarship), of which 65% went to men. In 2012-13, Canadian universities gave out $14.6 million in scholarships to 5070 students (avg = $2880 per scholarship) of which 57% goes to men.

There’s some good and some bad here. We’re making (slow) progress towards gender equality in sports, and the gender balance in athletes and scholarships in Canada is similar to that in the US. If you’re an optimist, you can point to the fact that we in Canada have achieved this without the need for government regulation; if you’re a pessimist, you can ask why we aren’t further ahead given that our athletics programs aren’t burdened with the Big-Time Football albatross.

But most importantly – why have our university athletic budgets gone up fivefold in real dollars over the past decade? Does this make any kind of sense? Who’s minding the store here, exactly?

November 25

Graduate Income Data Miracle on the Rideau

My friend and colleague Ross Finnie has just published a remarkable series of papers on long-term outcomes from higher education, which everyone needs to go read, stat.

What he’s done is taken 13 years of student data from the University of Ottawa and linked it to income tax data held by Statistics Canada.  That means he can track income patterns by field of study, not over the puny 6-24 month period commonly used by provincial surveys, or the new 36-month standard the National Graduate Survey now uses, but for up to 13 years out.  And guess what?  Those results are pretty good.  After only five years out, all fields of study are averaging at least $60K per year in annual income.  Income does flatten out pretty quickly after that, but by then, of course, people are earning a pretty solid middle-class existence – even the much-maligned Arts grads.

Figure 1: Average Post-Graduation Income of Class of 1998 University of Ottawa Graduates, by Field of Study and Number of Years After Graduation, in Thousands of 2011 Constant Dollars














One of the brilliant things about this data set is that you can not only compare across fields of study in a single cohort, but also you can compare across years for a single field of study.  Finnie’s data shows that in Math/Science, Humanities, Social Science, and Health, income pathways did not vary much between one cohort and another: a 2008 History grad had basically the same early income pathway as one from 1998.  In two other fields, though, it was a different story.  The first is Business, where the 1998 cohort clearly had it a lot better than its later counterparts; after two years out, that cohort was making $10K per year more than later ones, a lead that was then maintained for the rest of their career.  In ICT, the fate of various cohorts was even more diverse.

Figure 2: Average Post-Graduation Income, Selected Cohorts of University of Ottawa Engineering/Computer Science Graduates, by Number of Years After Graduation, in Thousands of 2011 Constant Dollars














This is pretty stunning stuff: thanks to the dot-com bust, the first-year incomes of engineering and computer science graduates in 2004 was exactly half what it was in 2000 ($40,000 vs. $80,000).  If anyone wants to know why kids don’t flock to ICT as a career, consider uncertain returns as a fairly major reason.

Also examined is the question of income by gender:

Figure 3: Average Post-Graduation Income of Class of 1998 University of Ottawa Graduates, by Gender and Number of Years After Graduation, in Thousands of 2011 Constant Dollars














Two interesting things are at work with respect to gender.  The initial income gap of $10,000 in the first year after graduation gap is almost entirely a field-of-study effect: take out Engineering/Computer Science, and earnings are almost the same.  But after that, the gap widens at a pretty continuous pace for all fields of study.  It’s most pronounced in Business, where top-quartile male incomes really blow the averages out, but the pattern is the same everywhere.  Because of the way the data is collected, it’s impossible to say how much of this reflects differences in labour-market participation and hours worked, and how much of this is differences in hourly pay, but the final result – a gender gap of $20,000 to $25,000 in average earnings, regardless of field of study – is pretty striking.

Are there caveats to this data?  Sure.  It’s just one university, located in a town heavy on government and ICT work.  My guess is that elsewhere, things might not look so good in Humanities and Social Science, and ICT outcomes may be less boom-and-bust-y.  But fortunately, Ross is on this one: he is currently building a consortium of institutions across the country to replicate this process, and build a more comprehensive national picture.

Let me press this point a bit on Ross’ behalf: there is no good reason why every institution in the country should not be part of this consortium.  If your institution is not part of it, ask yourself why.  This is the most important new source of data on education Canada has had in over a decade.  Everyone should contribute to it.



Nb. One tiny quibble about the papers is that they present everything in monochrome graphic form – no tabular data.  To make the above figures, I’ve had to eyeball the data and re-enter it myself.  Apologies for any deviations from the original.

March 28

A Reminder Why Education, Skills, and Training are Provincial Responsibilities

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about skills, skilled trades, skilled personnel, BAs vs. welders, jobs without people/people without jobs, and all kinds of other nonsense about education, training, and the labour market.  And to a large extent, when we argue about this stuff (and I’m including myself here), we’re arguing based on national-level data.

But the labor market isn’t national.

A recent paper by Kelly Foley and David Green made this point quite strongly.  This paper – delivered at an IRPP conference a few weeks ago – makes a number of important observations about education and the labour market, which I’ll have to save for another day.  But one of the most important points it makes is about returns to education in different parts of Canada.

The full paper isn’t available online, but I’d direct everyone’s attention the powerpoint, which is available here.   Slide 4 reminds us of the following:

1)      Among 25-34 year olds, return-on-investment for graduate degrees is much lower for men than for women.

2)      Among men, but not women in the same age group, the gap between the rate of return on bachelor’s degrees and college diplomas has narrowed sharply over the past decade or so.

3)      In fact, rates of return on all types of education are just a heck of a lot better for young women than men.  Startlingly so.

What’s all this gender stuff that got to do with regionalism in the labour market?  Well, take a look at slide 5, which breaks down male earnings by region.  In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.

I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t because universities outside Quebec and Ontario are uniquely bad or their colleges uniquely good.  Rather, it’s because labour markets in these regions are looking for fundamentally different sets of skills.  And as far as entry level workers are concerned, it’s pretty clear that they’re asking for more of the type produced by colleges, and less from universities.

And this brings us back to the national debate.  A lot of the rhetoric around skilled trades and the uselessness of Bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Ken Coates, much of the Conservative party) is coming from western Canada, where this actually fits the available data.  Equally, the firing back on the same issues (e.g. me, among others) is coming from central Canada, where this also fits the available data.  To a large extent we’re just talking past each other; both correct locally, but less so nationally (I’ll try to be more careful about this in the future).

But here’s the takeaway point: the fact that the labour market rewards different types of education differently in different parts of the country is exactly the reason the Feds’ involvement in education and training should be as minimal as possible.  We are simply too diverse a country for one-size fits-all policy tools.  Kudos to Foley and Green for reminding us of that.

March 05

The Long-Term Benefits of Higher Education

A very good Statscan report came out last week, and didn’t get nearly enough attention.  Authored by the excellent Marc Frenette, it’s called, An Investment of a Lifetime? The Long-term Labour Market Outcomes Associated with a Post-Secondary Education, and it deserves a wide readership.

What Frenette did was link the 1991 census file to the Longitudinal Worker File (LWF), which integrates data from Records of Employment, annual T1 and T4 files, and some data on employers as well, for a 10% random sample of all Canadian workers.  From this, he created a sample of about 8,000 people who were born in Canada between 1955 and 1957 (i.e. who were about 35 years old at the time of the census), and who held jobs in 18 out of 20 years since then. From this, he worked out what the added value of university and college credentials were over that period.

Figure 1 shows earnings by education level.  For men between the ages of 35 and 55, the added benefit of a college education (vs. high school) was $153,000; for a university education it was $445,000 (for women, the figures were $115,000 and $280,000).  In addition to higher salaries, higher levels of education were also associated with higher levels of union membership, and lower frequency of layoffs.

Figure 1: Net Present Value of 20-Year Earnings of Canadian-Born Workers, by Level of Education














Figure 1 isn’t exactly ground-breaking; more education = more money, and more so for men than women.  Where it gets interesting is when the results are disaggregated by gender, and attention is paid not just to means and medians but also at the distributional tails.  Figure 2 compares the wage premiums at various percentiles for female college and university graduates, over high school graduates in the equivalent percentiles.

Figure 2: Cumulative Additional 20-Year Earnings for Female College and University Graduates, at Selected Percentiles














Figure 2 shows three things.  First, women with university degrees make more money than those with college or high school across all percentiles.  Second, that said, down around the 5th-10th percentile, the premiums are so low that it’s really not clear that women are better off with higher education.  And third, the premium for higher education really flattens out above the median – which, as Figure 3 shows, is not even vaguely the case for men.

Figure 3: Cumulative Additional 20-Year Earnings for Male College and University Graduates, at Selected Percentiles














Crazy stuff.  Recall from Figure 1 that average gains for men were significantly higher than for women.  But Figure 2 and Figure 3 show that the median gains – those at the 50th percentile – are about the same.  The difference is that among males, the top ten percent – and especially the top five percent – are reaping astronomical rewards from higher education.

The last amazing thing in the paper has to do with how men and women with bachelor’s degrees fare comparatively in the public and private sectors.  And the numbers there are astonishing: in the bottom ten percentiles in the private sector, women are making less money, cumulatively, than their counterparts with just high-school education.  But what’s really interesting here is the fact that in the public sector, at least, women actually reap higher gains than men.

Figure 4: Median Cumulative Additional Earnings for Male and Female University Graduates in Public and Private Sectors














Nitpickers will likely snub this study – it deals with a cohort that finished school 35 years ago, it doesn’t disaggregate by field of study, etc.  But methodologically, it points to ways to conduct future studies (we could do the same with a shorter period for 25 year-olds in the 2001 census, for instance), and substantively it gives us a lot to chew on, not only in terms of average earnings, but also with the distribution of those earnings.  Kudos to Marc for this work.

March 27

Poor Barista, Rich Tradesperson

Many of you were kind enough to write in about my series on the relative value of Arts degrees versus tradescertifications, and the associated piece, which appeared in the Globe online.  I just wanted to finish off that series with a thought on how these memes are being propagated.  There are two points that I want to note, specifically.

The first is that the “BAs vs. welders” argument is always carried-out by a curious and unbalanced mix of anecdotes and data.  These stories basically all follow the same formula:

1)      The case against bachelor’s degrees tends to revolve around “over-education”, and always includes the point that some graduates work as baristas.   I spend a fair bit of time in Starbucks, and it seems to me that most baristas are students, rather than graduates, and those who are graduates are still pretty young.  This is to say, the graduate barista is a temporary phenomenon.  There aren’t a lot of aging graduate baristas; within eighteen months, they’re all either in grad school, or they’ve found a decent job.  Is this really such a big deal?

2)      The most frequent use of data is not – you’ll be shocked to hear – long-run outcome data, but data related to cost.  Tuition is up, debt is up, yadda yadda.  And yes, $25,000 debt would be freaking horrible… if barista was a permanent occupation, and the Repayment Assistance Plan didn’t exist.  But it’s not, and it does.  And so this objection is kind of beside the point.

3)      There’s never any quantitative data deployed in favour of the trades side – it’s always anecdotal.  Like this Maclean’s article, in which the entire trades side of the argument is a single case of a tradesperson in Alberta.  Partly, that’s because the data isn’t very good (you can get data by education, or by industry, but getting both is a pain), but it’s also because the available data isn’t very convincing.

Even as a data nerd, I understand that visceral examples – like, “poor baristas and rich plumbers” – carry more emotional weight than mere statistics.  I just don’t quite get why they carry so much emotional weight, when the data actively (and entirely) points in the other direction.

My second point to note about this debate is that, apart from Margaret Wente, the people who make pro-trades arguments are almost entirely male.  Now, maybe that’s because people who commentate on the labour force, and on higher education, are also mostly male, but I still think the near-total lack of women making the “more-welders-fewer-BAs” case is of some significance.

I’m Just sayin’.

March 12

Measuring the Effects of Student Loans

Measuring the effects of student loans is brutally difficult.  It sounds simple, but it’s not.

Take a recent article called “Gender, Debt, and Dropping out of College“, published in Gender and Society, which made a small wave in access-conscious circles a couple of weeks ago.  Using data form the 1997 US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, this article made two claims: first, that debt was positively correlated to completion up until a certain level of debt, after which the relationship reverses itself somewhat (though the relationship remains at all times positive); and, second, that this effect was greater among men than women – that is, at any given level of debt, the positive effect on graduation was more pronounced among women than men.

(Unfortunately, in the online commentary, the last point tended to be summarized as, “debt has more of an adverse effect on men than women”, which isn’t the same thing at all).

Now, debt is not an exogenous variable.   It doesn’t come out of nowhere.  It implies financial need, which, in turn, is a function of both socio-economic background and academic achievement.  It also implies a preference for borrowing over working.   Persistence is also a mutli-dimensional issue.  As generations of researchers have discovered, since Vince Tinto started working in this field nearly 40 years ago, there are a whole host of inter-correlated factors that affect persistence, of which finances are just one. So linking the two causally is a tall order.

One of the best papers ever on this subject was written a few years ago by University of Ottawa professor, Kathleen Day.  Using Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, she found a small but positive relationship between student aid and perseverance in studies (though when “aid” was disaggregated into loans, grants, and scholarships, the effect was no longer detectable).   She then re-estimated her models to account for the possibility that aid and debt were both related to another unobserved variable, and found that the relationship between aid and persistence turned negative.  (That’s not to say aid is ineffective, but rather that the available data doesn’t permit a conclusive answer.)

Back to the Gender and Society paper, which has a variety of flag-raising methodological limitations.  There are no controls for student labour market participation, for a start.    Family income is treated as a trichotomous variable (high, medium, low) rather than a continuous one.  The paper also seems to not account for credits accumulated, or number of years enrolled, which is very odd.  Most seriously, it doesn’t account for the possible unobserved correlated variables.

Given this, I’d take the article’s conclusions with a truckload of salt.  It’s interesting, but far from conclusive.  We’re still a long way from understanding the effects of debt.

March 21

Equity in Athletics

Two weeks ago, the University of Alberta decided to axe its women’s field hockey team. Here’s why that was so… odd:

1) Money wasn’t the issue. The announcement describes the decision as “part of an ongoing review of budget priorities,” but until the moment it happened, no one seemed aware that any teams were under review. And team members say that funding was not even mentioned during the meeting in which players were informed of the decision.

2) It makes a mockery of Canada West Athletics. The word “league” comes from the latin “to bind” (as in, forming an alliance) and sports leagues need a minimum of such solidarity to survive. By unilaterally terminating the field hockey program, U of A hasn’t just damaged its own athletes’ careers, it’s harmed all the other CWUAA squads as well as it leaves just three teams in the league – below the minimum number mandated by the CIS. So much for solidarity.

3) The “Alberta model” is problematic. One of the reasons given for cutting the team was that it had too many non-Albertans. According to Athletics Director Ian Reade, this is a problem because it doesn’t fit with the “Alberta model” he has developed for the program, which apparently requires teams to be fed by a local grassroots development system, and which Edmonton presently lacks. Yet I can’t find any evidence that this “Alberta model” is actually university policy rather than just Reade’s own philosophy. And when he was named athletics director in 2010, his pitch for them model to the local media focused not on localism but on how it would make Alberta a leader in sports science.

Also: what university uses athletics as a way to limit recruitment?

4) The gender equality reasoning is wonky. The university argued that since the number of male and female teams is now equal they can’t possibly be accused of gender discrimination. O.K., but CIS statistics show that after this decision, just 44% of all U of A athletes will be female, and they’re already limited to just 35% of the scholarship dollars, both of which are below the national average. And all this at a school where females make up nearly 60% of undergraduates.

In the U.S., Title IX of the Higher Education Act requires institutions to provide female athletes with opportunities substantially proportionate to their share of enrolment, on pain of losing a portion of their federal funding. In Canada, only a half dozen schools – Brock, Carleton, Laurentian, Trent, UPEI and Victoria – would meet that test.

It makes you wonder why that is, exactly. It’s a question more people will be asking following this decision.

November 16

Helicopter Parents: Grounded?

We’ve all seen stories about “helicopter parents,” parents who hover over their children even after they enrol in university. But most of these stories are American in origin and tend to be anecdotal in nature. What’s the reality in Canada?

A few months ago, we asked our regular CanEd Student Research Panel what kind of on-going involvement their parents had in their lives. Did their parents help them with their homework or help them select courses or extracurricular activities? Had they helped them find a job, or (helicopter alert!) helped them contest a grade? The figure shows the results.

By some distance, the area in which parents gave the most assistance was finding a job, with runners up in assistance with school work, discussing a problem with a professor or administrator, and suggesting extra-curricular activities. Only 3% of students said their parents had behaved in that most helicopter-ish of ways by contesting a grade for them.

Female students were more likely to report having parental involvement in all of the categories compared to male students, and parental education was positively correlated with all categories as well. On academic matters, such as getting help with schoolwork and course selection, parental involvement increased with parental level of education. Anglophone parents were more likely to assist with schoolwork compared to other parents; allophone parents (many of whom are immigrants) were more likely to assist with course selection. Regarding choosing a career path or finding a job, allophone parents were more likely to be involved in choosing a career path, but substantially less likely to be involved with finding a job compared to Anglophone and Francophone parents.

Clearly, helicopter parents are not the norm among Canadian university students. So why do we hear so much about them? For one, they make a great news story. As well, it is possible that even a small percentage of meddling parents can affect institutional work patterns: at a campus of 30,000 students, if 3% of students’ parents call about their children’s grades, that’s 900 parental calls, or at least two calls a day, into the offices of Deans and Student Affairs. If that’s up from 2% a few years ago, that’s an extra 300 calls. That’s certainly enough to cause stories of helicopter parents to circulate, even if they aren’t in fact all that common.

Miriam Kramer and Alex Usher