Pathway programs: the interest is there, but is the awareness?

Across Canada, universities and colleges are partnering to give students the opportunity to have a postsecondary education that includes experience from both types of institutions. Many of these arrangements go by different names—2+2 pathways, diploma-degree pathways, etc.—but what they all have in common is the opportunity they offer students to enjoy the unique benefits of both college and university through a clearly defined pathway.

But how many of these pathways are created or advertised with a clear understanding of students’ awareness and motivations? Do students even know that these types of programs exist? Do they care?

To find out, we surveyed our StudentVu panel to learn more about Canadian students’ awareness of and attitudes toward pathway programs. Overall, we received responses from 1,608 college and university students from across the country.

And survey says…

At the time of the survey, 60% of respondents were aware of some form of pathway program. Of these, students enrolled in a college-only program (68%) were more likely than those enrolled in a university-only program (57%) to be aware of pathway programs.

But here’s the thing: only 39% of all respondents were aware of pathway programs when they first applied to PSE. That’s a 21% increase in awareness after students are already enrolled in PSE.

These results force us to ask: what would the interest level be if we were ever able to close this awareness gap? We asked the students some follow-up questions to find out.

Of all respondents, 7% were involved in some form of pathway program. More specifically, 5% were enrolled in a college-to-university program, while 2% were enrolled in a co-delivered program. However, 28% of our respondents said they’d be interested in this type of program if they were applying for PSE today—that’s a 21% difference, the exact same proportion of students who indicated that they’d only learned what pathways programs were after enrolling in PSE. An additional 36% of students were on the fence and said they weren’t sure.

Interest in Pathway Programs

Overall, first generation students were more likely to express interest in a pathway program than those who were not first generation (40% compared to 26%, respectively). Students enrolled in a college-only program were twice as likely to be interested in a pathway program as those enrolled in a university-only program (42% compared to 21%, respectively).

What these findings tell us is that schools that are currently offering or interested in offering pathway programs have an enormous opportunity to boost applications to these programs by promoting awareness among students before they apply to PSE.

The perceived benefits

Many students appeared to be quite excited by the potential benefits of a pathway program. By far, the most commonly mentioned benefit was being able to gain both practical, hands-on experience and theoretical knowledge of their field through a single program:

"You would probably be able to learn more about the practical aspect to a specific subject if you're going into, say, a college-university pathway program, compared to a straight to university program."

Others felt that the diversity of learning environments would be an asset in a student’s educational and career development:

"Increased career possibilities and greater depth of knowledge."

"The hands-on learning of college combined with the academic learning of university would reinforce the knowledge."

Finally, some students believed that the mixture of college and university education would improve their employment prospects after graduation:

"The hands on benefits plus the years of studying would make me a better candidate for jobs."

The biggest concerns

So what aspects of a pathway program would make someone hesitate to apply or enroll? When we asked students about the potential drawbacks of pathway programs, one of the most commonly cited concerns was that these programs might not have the same academic esteem as direct-entry four-year university degrees.

A number of respondents were also concerned that pathway programs might extend the length and cost of their PSE:

"It could potentially take longer and cost more."

Another considerable group expressed concern with numerous unknowns associated with pathway programs:

"Complicated schedule, might not be recognized by an employer, credits might not transfer over, might take longer to attain a degree."

Taking these common concerns into consideration, institutions would do well to create and communicate clear completion timelines for pathway programs, as well as guidelines around guaranteed credit transfer and academic quality to boost applicant interest.


Schools should work to raise awareness about pathway programs among potential students before these students apply to PSE. In doing so, these efforts should also address common student concerns about:

  • The transfer of credits
  • The length of the pathway program compared to a college-only or university-only program
  • The transition between different learning environments
  • The potential loss of social networks when moving from one school to another

Further, schools can make renewed efforts to emphasize the advantages that many students already see in these programs. Some of the main perceived advantages are:

  • The mixture of hands-on learning and theoretical learning
  • Exposure to a diversity of teaching, learning styles
  • Increased career possibilities

Finally, any school looking to create new pathway programs or boost awareness of existing ones needs to tackle the lag in awareness that happens between high school and PSE, with a significant number of students only learning about pathway programs after they have enrolled somewhere. Schools can address this awareness gap by making greater efforts to make students aware of the pathway option before they apply to PSE.

To learn more about how timely and accurate research can help your school market, develop, or determine the feasibility of a pathway program, please don’t hesitate to contact Academica Group. Or if you’d rather chat on the phone, you can reach us toll-free at 1-866-922-8636 ext. 228.

At Academica Group, we’re proud to work with hundreds of committed, passionate higher ed professionals who want to drive improvement at their institutions. By providing enhanced research capacity and expert guidance, we allow these professionals to work beyond resource limitations and seize more opportunities to positively impact the lives of their students, colleagues, and campus communities.

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