Using administrative and survey data to estimate returns to higher education in Canada

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training


Post-secondary education is valuable – but how should we measure that value? Education is commonly described as a valuable asset: It benefits the individuals who attain it, and it benefits society at large. Unsurprisingly, research almost exclusively finds that investment in post-secondary education produces positive returns. However, despite widespread agreement on this fact, there is no consensus on the best methods for reliably calculating these returns. In this report, researchers at the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training (NB-IRDT) analyze the existing literature and available datasets to compile a list of recommendations to identify the most accurate and effective methods for calculating the returns to post-secondary education. In the short term, the authors recommend measuring the value of post-secondary education by analyzing the datasets linked through Statistics Canada’s Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP): The Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS), and T1 Family File tax records. By using these data sets to group earnings cohorts according to observable characteristics and by using tax records to estimate individuals’ participation (or non-participation) in post-secondary education, researchers can create control groups against which to compare the earnings of groups with varying levels of education. In the long term, the authors believe the most accurate estimations of the return to post-secondary education in Canada can be obtained by expanding the information available through the ELMLP to include additional data from the Canadian Census, the Longitudinal Administrative Databank (LAD), the Longitudinal and International Study of Adults (LISA), the General Social Survey (GSS), the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult competencies (PIAAC), the Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB) and others.