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A paper out Tuesday finds offering better career education and an early guarantee of financial aid to lower-income high-school students has a “significant” effect on boosting their enrolment in post-secondary studies.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Career advice in high school has been oft-criticized as being either superficial or missing altogether.

But there's a solid case to be made for taking it more seriously. A paper out Tuesday finds offering better career education and an early guarantee of financial aid to lower-income high-school students has a "significant" effect on boosting their enrolment in post-secondary studies.

In Francophone schools in New Brunswick, for example, offering enhanced careers workshops in the last three years of high school to students from lower-income, lower-education families raised the proportion of post-secondary education to 75 per cent from 61 per cent. In Manitoba schools, the rate of enrolment in community colleges jumped to 29 per cent from 17 per cent.

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The study, published by the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, is based on experiments in schools between 2004 and 2008. The project included about 5,400 students in 51 high schools in Manitoba and New Brunswick.

It's a promising finding. Study after study show the best buffer to economic downturns is higher education. A 2009 University of British Columbia/York University paper, for example, found that success in landing work after a stretch of unemployment increases as education levels rise. And Statistics Canada data has shown that, in the last recession, the plunge in Canadian employment was mostly among people who didn't have a high-school diploma.

While the advantage of higher education, in terms of wages, is stronger in other countries than in Canada, it is still better to have a university or college degree than just high school. Higher levels of post-secondary schooling tend to boost wages and are better for the Canadian economy as a whole, which needs a highly skilled work force to compete globally.

An early pledge for financial help also boosts enrolment, the SRDC study found. In New Brunswick, an early promise of an $8,000 bursary for post-secondary education to students from lower-income, lower-education families boosted enrolment to 76 per cent from 61 per cent in Francophone schools, and to 66 per cent from 57 per cent in Anglophone schools.

The interventions were tested in schools as part of a project called Future to Discover, which was created to see whether such approaches spur more students into post-secondary education. The emphasis is on those from lower-income groups, half of whom typically don't pursue studies beyond high school.

"With the expected skills shortages that Canada will be facing in coming years, more must be done to get all students to see themselves as potential post-secondary students" said Jean-Pierre Voyer, the organization's president, in a release.

SRDC is a non-profit research organization, created to develop, field test, and evaluate new programs.

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