OTTAWA -- Universities and colleges could offset a potential enrolment slump over the next quarter century by tapping into a "reservoir" of young men who are passing up higher education, Statistics Canada says.
In a report Wednesday on post-secondary enrolment, the federal agency created three scenarios for projecting post-secondary attendance until 2031.
The first "status-quo" scenario predicts that enrolment will continue to grow for another decade at the wholesome levels of the last few years, then decline as the last of the echo boomers -- the children of baby boomers -- graduate and enter the workforce.
Under that scenario, post-secondary enrolment would grow steadily until 2012-13, peaking at 1.3 million, and then decline until it reaches a "trough" by 2025-26.
The second scenario also projects that enrolment will peak in the next 10 years, but that it will level off after that, rather than plummet. This premise is based on the theory that universities and colleges will be successful in casting wider nets for attracting students to make up for a declining population of post-secondary age.
A third scenario assumes that a slump will be avoided by universities attracting more young men. Over the past 20 years, women have increasingly outnumbered men on campus and the gender imbalance is now almost 60-40.
"Raising the university participation rates of men could offset some of the potential enrolment deficits that would result from a decline in the size of the university-age cohort," said Statistics Canada.
Another study earlier this year, by the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, also predicted that enrolment would continue to grow for another five or six years and then tumble, unless universities find ways to otherwise increase their numbers beyond their traditional pool of students.
Some institutions are already seeking ways to avoid emptying classrooms, including attracting more under-represented groups, such as the poor, aboriginals and even men. Although more men than ever are going to university and college, the increase in women has been even greater over the past 20 years.
“Universities need to increase participation rates, not only to increase enrolment, but to help drive labour-market growth, to help drive prosperity,” said Herb O’Heron, senior adviser with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Mr. O’Heron said it is hard to predict university enrolment beyond the next decade because there are too many unknowns.
“We don’t know what will happen because it’s too far out,” he said.