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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding barriers to educational attainment among Canadian youth. Foley, Kelly


In this dissertation, I explore barriers to educational attainment faced by Canadian youth from three different perspectives. The first paper, which is joint with David Green and Giovanni Gallipoli, uses an extended version of an unobserved factor model to investigate the factors that influence a youth’s decision to drop out of high-school. Our results support three main conclusions. First, ability at age 15 plays an important role in dropping out. Second, parental valuation of education has a substantial impact on medium and low ability teenagers. Third, parental education has no direct effect on dropping out once we control for ability and parental valuation of education. The second paper poses the question ”Can neighbourhoods change the decisions of youth on the margin of university participation?” I use the fraction of adults who have at least a Bachelors degree in a small geographic area surrounding a youth’s home to proxy one source of potential peers and role models. Results suggest that at the mean neighbourhoods have a substantial impact on the likelihood of attending university. I further explore this finding by estimating the marginal effect of neighbourhood characteristics at different points on the socio-economic distribution, and the distribution of reading test scores. One striking finding is that while university participation among youth from families with university degrees is unaffected by neighbourhoods, the marginal effect of neighbourhoods is largest for the highskilled youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The final paper evaluates the impact of a post-secondary preparatory course on high school achievement. BC AVID, a pilot project implemented with a random assignment design, encouraged students whose grade 8 grades were within the B and C range to enrol in advanced classes and provided academic support through an elective course. I find that while the program increased the chances that students enrolled in an advanced math course, it also increased the likelihood that students failed the provincial examination. BC AVID did, however, help students pass their course work and as a result more students obtained credit for the advanced math course.

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