Eduvation Blog

Bouncing Back & Winning Shots

Good morning, whether you’re celebrating vegetables or apple strudel today (or, belatedly, bubble gum, tapas or fudge!) I’m particularly disappointed that I didn’t get an issue out yesterday, so I could recognize Bloomsday… but Tuesday was hectic for me. On top of a conference session for CAUBO, I was up early for a half-dozen CBC radio interviews about the return to Ontario campuses this Fall, trying my best to answer their questions about mandatory vax policies, in-person classes, and perceptions of heightened competition for admissions. (Radio interviews don’t allow much room for detail or nuance, but you can catch me on Ontario Morning here if you’re curious. I’m done by the 9 min mark.)

If you know me at all, you can imagine that I spent 4 hours prepping for my 4 minutes on air, so allow me to share some interesting bits I assembled… after spending another 4 hours polishing it for you!



Fall Enrolments

Last week, OUAC released the first round of undergraduate confirmation statistics for Ontario universities this coming Fall, and the early indicators (as of Jun 3) are interesting…


Steady Overall

Overall, Ontario universities have reported stable undergraduate enrolment growth straight through the pandemic, despite early fears of a rush to take a gap year, or a subsequent double cohort effect. Last year, confirmations were up +1.1% in June compared to before the pandemic, and now they’re up another +1.9%. (High-school-direct applicant confirmations are up 1.9%, while non-direct applicants are up +1.7%.)


K-Shaped Recovery

Yet, just as economists have observed the fortunes of various industries diverging due to the pandemic, the fortunes of various programs and universities also seem to be diverging…



Program Trends

The trends visible in Ontario university applications back in April are even clearer in the June confirmations for enrolment this Fall…


The Fauci Effect

In a continuation of what I called “the Fauci Effect” back in February, enrolments are up for Health Professional and Related Programs (+18.1%), Biological and Biomedical Sciences (+9.5%), and Nursing (+5.8%). As I noted, the visibility of health professionals and our newfound obsession with immunology and epidemiology has significantly boosted student awareness and interest in these fields. Back in April, we saw that applications were likewise up +18.9% for the Health Professions, so it would appear that institutions have absorbed much of the surge in interest there. On the other hand, applicants to Biology and Nursing may have faced tougher competition for admission, since applications were up +14.8% and +16.9% respectively, but just two-thirds of the former and one-third of the latter increases have been accommodated (or have accepted their offers, I suppose).


Pent-Up Demand?

So far, there are no signs that 2020 deferrals are swamping universities, although the promise of a return to in-person instruction may help explain a surge in confirmations for Kinesiology programs (+7.6%), and perhaps also among non-direct applicants to Education programs (+32%).


Roughing It Outdoors

HS confirmations are notably down from last year for Natural Resources and Conservation programs (-24.4%) and Agriculture (-10.2%). Although both had gains among non-HS students, those numbers are tiny. (I think this just continues a multi-year trend, but let me know if you can offer other insights!)


Pity the Liberal Arts

As was evident in the application numbers I reported back in April, the pandemic and its resulting recession seems to have clobbered student interest in the languages, fine and performing arts. As of June, confirmations are down for Fine & Applied Arts (-6.5%), Languages / Linguistics (-12.8%), and particularly for Music (-13.7%). HS confirmations are down at OCAD U too (-11.8%). This could reflect student anxieties about employment, uncertainty about a return to in-person instruction, or even loss of interest among students who have missed out on a year on classroom instruction in high school. (Any other thoughts?)


Struggling with Math?

You may recall that applications were way down to Math and Science programs in April too, and June confirmations still reflect that: General Science is down (-10.7%), as are Mathematics and Statistics (-8.2%), as well as Physical Science (-3.6%). Is this just a continued historical slide, does it reflect a cohort of high school graduates struggling with math and science grades under virtual delivery? (Or something else entirely?)



University Fortunes

While the overall Ontario university system has seen stable application and enrolment volumes, there is profound inequality in the way it has been spread across the province…


The Big Get Bigger?

I’ve been observing since February that the pivot to online instruction last year privileged big university brands with robust online infrastructure for services and delivery – what I call the “Amazon Effect.” Ontario’s medical-doctoral institutions saw the biggest gains in HS-direct applications this spring, particularly Queen’s (+14.3%), uWaterloo (+12.6%), and McMaster (+8.4%). Other U15s also did well for HS application volumes back in April, including uOttawa (+1.8%), uToronto (+3.4%), and Western (+6.8%). And yet, HS confirmations as of June show rather different results, perhaps because universities decided not to grow further. (Or perhaps the students opted not to accept?) Currently, HS confirmations suggest little change from last year at Queen’s (-0.6%), Western (+0.7%), or uOttawa (+2.8%), while HS confirmations appear to be down at uWaterloo (-5.4%) and McMaster (-10.8%). The biggest schools in the GTA appear to be getting even bigger: Ryerson U (+1.2%), uToronto (+9.9%), and York U (+18.9%) have collectively gained 2,169 HS confirmations compared to last year at this time.


Kudos to Laurier (again)

Back in January, I gave kudos to Wilfrid Laurier U for outperforming most smaller institutions, achieving a 4% YoY increase in HS applications (4th in the province). Clearly Laurier’s admissions folks deserve kudos too, because as of now they are second only to York for growth in HS direct confirmations (+18.3% over last year), and saw non-HS confirmations grow even more (+21.3%). Last week, WLU proudly announced its “largest-ever incoming class” as of the Jun 1 deadline.


“Laurier continues to be a top choice for students looking for strong academics, innovative programs, a sense of community and an outstanding student experience. Our approach to developing students within a thriving and inclusive community continues to attract high-achieving students.”Tony Vannelli, Provost, Wilfrid Laurier U



Strong Growth at Algoma

Algoma U proudly announced in early April that they were “one of seven” universities to see HS direct application growth this year (+1.9%), and now they have even greater confirmation growth (+8.3%). President Asima Vezina credited her team of recruitment marketers, and noted that many regional students wanted a “closer-to-home option.” Algoma has also seen domestic and international applications to its Brampton campus grow +65% this year.


Booming Badgers

Brock U is expecting a “large incoming class,” with growth in HS-direct confirmations (+6.5%) and non-HS (+3.6%) over last year – “marking an important bounce back after an enrolment dip due to the COVID19 pandemic in 2020-21.” Registrar Geraldine Jones credits the hard work of recruiters and marketers, using virtual tours, online open houses, and a “significantly enhanced digital marketing campaign.” Brock has reportedly seen “strong demand for residence spots,” but (see below) will not require vaccinations.


Other Winners

HS-direct confirmations are also noticeably up over last year for Trent U (+9.1%), Ontario Tech (+7.2%), and Brescia (+6.9%). (Sorry I didn’t spot any press coverage though.)


Laurentian Woes

Laurentian U rather strategically waited until Feb 1 to announce its insolvency, after the deadline for HS direct applications, so as I noted in April, they were down just -3.3% by Apr 8. Then 5 days later (“Black Monday”) LU torched 69 programs, and I warned that “the real proof will be in the pudding – confirmation stats this fall.” Sure enough, Laurentian has demonstrated that you can’t close 35% of your programs – even if they supposedly only affect 10% of students – without it impacting your incoming class. As of now, Laurentian’s HS confirmations for Fall are down by almost a third (-30.5%). The non-HS confirmations aren’t much better (-23.5%). So far, LU looks to have 365 fewer students in its incoming class for September. (It’s hard to say whether this sinking ship in Sudbury is taking Hearst down with it, when Hearst had just 19 HS confirmations last year at this time, and now is down -63.2% to only 7.)


Back in April, I warned that “the real proof will be in the pudding” for Laurentian U: confirmation stats this fall. Sure enough, you can’t close 35% of your programs without it impacting your incoming class.



Other Declines

It’s harder to decipher potential causes for declines in HS direct confirmations to date at a few other institutions: uGuelph-Humber (-31.1%), King’s UC (-8.5%), uGuelph (-8.1%), and uWindsor (-5.1%). That doesn’t take into account some international and graduate enrolments, upper-year retention, and non-HS applicants, so the final enrolment picture remains to be seen.



Vaccine Mandates

Since last Wednesday, when I added Fanshawe College and uToronto to Western and Trent as 4 CdnPSEs that will require students in residence to be vaccinated this Fall, they have been joined by one more…


Vax Mandate at Ryerson

While Ryerson U grapples with protests about its name and the decapitation of its statue, one headache it clearly doesn’t want to face this Fall is a COVID outbreak in residence. Although a spokesperson told media just last week that RU was not considering mandatory vaccination, on Tuesday Ryerson became the 5th CdnPSE to require all students in residence to get at least one dose of a WHO-approved vaccine. RU has 1,144 beds in 3 residence buildings on its downtown campus.  CP24  |  680 News  |  Ryerson  |  National Observer


“[A vaccine mandate] is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development, Ryerson’s mandate and commitments surrounding applied knowledge and research to address existing and emerging society needs, and to prevent and mitigate outbreaks and disruptions during the 2021-2022 academic year.”Ryerson U Housing


Incentives at Brandon

Virtually all CdnPSEs are promoting vaccination to students, faculty and staff through awareness campaigns, but several are imitating provincial government lotteries by launching contests. (I’ve mentioned contests at uLethbridge and Assiniboine Community College already.) Yesterday, Brandon U unveiled its “Winning Shot” campaign for vaccinated students and employees, with $10,000 in prizes including a grand prize of $5,000 towards tuition and fees.


“Vaccination against Covid19 is neither a marathon nor a sprint. It’s more of a team sport… where we can all win, we can all be the game-winning hero, we can all take the Winning Shot.”David Docherty, President, Brandon U



Disincentives at Rhodes

Rhodes College, a private liberal arts college in Memphis TN, is taking a quite different approach: chargingunvaccinated students an extra $1,500 (US) per semester, which will apparently cover the cost of mandatory weekly testing. (Rhodes “fully intends to require the COVID19 vaccination immediately upon FDA approval,” for students, staff, faculty, vendors and campus partners.)  Memphis Commercial Appeal


Impact on Enrolment?

Going back to the OUAC statistics, it’s interesting to note that the 4 Ontario universities who have announced that vaccines will be mandatory in residence this Fall all have pretty healthy incoming classes so far. Western saw substantial growth in domestic enrolment last year, so the fact that this year’s class is on par (+0.7%) still constitutes a pretty strong position. Trent’s HS confirmations are up +9.1%, uToronto’s +9.9%, and Ryerson’s +1.2% (plus non-HS is up +2.7%). The mandate announcements, made between May 27 and Jun 15, can hardly have impacted student decisions in time for the Jun 3 OUAC report, but the reverse is possible: universities with healthy enrolment pipelines may have been willing to take a chance on alienating a small fraction of applicants who are vaccine-hesitant or downright anti-vaxxers.

Cases HS Conf Vax Policy
Western U 377 +0.7% Mandatory
Queen’s 253 -0.6%
uToronto 150 +9.9% Mandatory
uWaterloo 101 -5.4% No
Brock U 80 +6.5% No
uGuelph 69 -8.1%
McMaster 49 -10.8% No
Ryerson U 37 +1.2% Mandatory
Trent U 33 +9.1% Mandatory


(Case counts publicly reported since Sept 2020, as tracked by Eduvation, and likely undercounts. YoY change in HS-direct confirmations per OUAC data as of Jun 2.)


Could enrolment concerns explain why uWaterloo and McMaster have both been pretty firm in rejecting the idea of a vaccine mandate? Or am I just getting cynical after 15 months of a pandemic?


(NOTE: See the postscript, with clarification from McMaster, in the June 18 edition.)




My Youtube feed has been jam-packed with hundreds (thousands?) of convocation videos again this month – most of them an hour or more in length, and pretty conventional. But here’s a fun video to engage graduates and celebrate their experience…


One Last Day on Campus

In this 5-min video, uCalgary Dino mascot Rex takes requests from the graduating class, for what they would do if they could spend just one more day on campus. From eating nachos at the pub or sandwiches or coffees (before long Rex clearly has a stomach ache) to favourite study spots, good luck rituals, and of course in particular walking across the stage at convocation, Rex helps relive Dinos’ favourite memories in this amusing, engaging congratulations video.  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading!  

Please do drop me a note if you have thoughts about any of the enrolment patterns, in Ontario universities or elsewhere.

Stay safe and be well!


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