A Ladder of Opportunity

The York University Economic and Social Impact Report 2020 Summary

Access to university education is recognized as being transformative. The literature establishes that university graduates have higher earnings than high school or college graduates, including graduates from lower income backgrounds. There are also non-financial benefits related to health, stronger relationships and civic engagement. Many of these benefits pass along to university graduates’ children.

York’s access mission is both integral to the university’s identity and a major part of its community impact. The core population York serves has a very high proportion of new Canadians – immigrants or the children of immigrants. In providing access to these students, York is not only offering an education and a step on the ladder to career success but also performing a vital service as an engine of inclusion in Canadian society. 

In this report, we classify access students as those who are accessing post-secondary education or university specifically because of York University. We further divide these access students into two categories: post-secondary access students who would not have attended post-secondary education at all if not for York, and university access students who would have attended college instead of university.

As of 2019, there are


people ages 25 to 64 with university degrees they would not otherwise have because of York

Table 1 Access students among all students and first-generation students 

Access GroupTotal StudentsFirst-Generation Students
%Projected count%Projected count
Post-secondary access4.72,6266.7980
University access3.31,8414.7682
Total Access84,46711.41,662

Table 2 Former access students among total alumni and first-generation alumni  

Access GroupTotal AlumniFirst-Generation Alumni
%Projected count%Projected count
Post-secondary access3.328,3244.55,356
University access5.1512,9036.597,841
Total access8.4721,22611.0813,197

The York Access Effect

There is strong evidence in the literature to show students at the margin of admission to university typically have significantly better life outcomes than peers who barely miss out. That York actively welcomes these students, supports the development of their talents and sets them on the road to success is an unqualified public policy success.

Our findings reveal that 8% of York University students believe they would not attend university if they could not attend York. Of these access students, most (59%) would otherwise not attend post-secondary education at all. This has enormous knock-on effects in terms of higher income, better well-being and greater civic engagement, not only these students but also their families and the communities they live in. 

Imagine what your life would most likely be like if you had not studied at York University. Do you think that on balance you are better or worse off having studied at York?

Percentage of post-secondary access alumni who say they are better off


Compared to


of non-access alumni, which demonstrates that access students experience significantly better benefits from attending York

Percentage of university access alumni who say they are better off


Bharat Masrani

Bharat Masrani

Group President and CEO of
TD Bank Group

“York University understands that when our communities thrive, we all thrive. As a leading post-secondary institution serving a diverse community, York has not only recognized but embraced its role as a community catalyst and a ladder of opportunity for tomorrow’s leaders. Much like York University, I’ve always believed that with the privilege of education comes the responsibility to give back to our communities and contribute to a more inclusive future for all Canadians. I am incredibly proud to count myself as an alumnus.” 

Bharat Masrani graduated from York University in 1978 and earned an MBA from the Schulich School of Business the following year. Of South Asian descent, he became the first member of a visible minority appointed president and CEO of a large Canadian bank, taking the helm of TD Bank Group in 2014. A champion of York University and a community and business leader, Masrani was awarded an honorary degree from the Schulich School of Business in 2017. His banking career with TD spans more than three decades of multifaceted experience that includes retail, commercial, wholesale, wealth and risk. Masrani is proudly chairing the 2020 United Way Greater Toronto campaign and works actively toward a more inclusive society.

Better Jobs. Better Outcomes.

Access students experience significantly greater benefits from attending York. Because of the opportunity York University provided, as of 2019, there are 21,226 people ages 25 to 64 who have university degrees who would not otherwise. 

As of 2018, the overall estimated benefit of York’s historic accessibility was equal to over $1.1 billion in additional income and 1,338 additional jobs for York alumni. In addition, we estimate that York’s effects in expanding access for alumni created close to $2.2 billion in economic activity and 1,621 jobs

To further highlight the significance of a university education for individuals at the margin of admission, we estimate that post-secondary access alumni from York on average earned approximately 140% or $63,253 more than Toronto Census Management Area (CMA) high school graduates in 2018, while university access alumni earned 86% or $47,395 more than Toronto CMA college graduates.  

Economic activity created by York’s effect in expanding access for alumni


The York Advantage

Three main reasons explain why York University is recognized as an accessible institution of higher learning. 

  1. The University’s Keele campus is uniquely positioned geographically to serve growing communities along Toronto’s northern periphery, as well as communities such as Jane and Finch that have historically faced barriers to social mobility. 
  2. York’s reputation for diversity and inclusion makes it an attractive option for a variety of learners, leading them to choose it over other institutions. 
  3. The institution offers an array of policies and programs that cater to students who otherwise would likely not attend post-secondary education. These strong access policies include articulation agreements with local colleges and bridging programs.

York’s place at the heart of these communities has meant that over time it has become a world leader in integrating an ethnically diverse student population, and providing all of its students, especially first-generation students, a place from which to launch their professional and/or scientific careers.

Table 3 Returns to access among alumni

Post-secondary accessUniversity accessTotal Access
Number of alumni8,32412,90321,227
EarningsAverage returns to access$66,782 $51,696 $57,612
Aggregate returns to access$555,893,368 $667,033,488 $1,222,926,856
JobsAdvantage in employment rate16.1 pp2.2 pp4.3 pp
Aggregate advantage in employment1,3382831,621

York’s Key Accessibility Facts

More than 71% ($59 million) of York’s total scholarships were distributed at least in part on the basis of need in 2018-19.

• In 2018-19 alone, more than 4,600 individuals benefited from access, bridging and pathway programs. 

22% of first-generation students reference diversity and inclusion as having “made York University uniquely attractive or possible to attend compared to any other university.”

• Asked to identify whether York’s reputation for inclusivity was an important factor in whether to study at York, 42.2% of first-generation students responded that it was “very important” or “extremely important.”

Students at work in a lab.

A substantial portion of students at York would simply not have attended university or college had York not existed: a tribute to the institution’s intensive outreach efforts and its welcoming environment. For these thousands of students, York is a genuinely and uniquely transformative institution, a key part of the system that integrates new Canadians into Toronto’s economy and society.