Pass or Fail? Comparing the performance of private and public school graduates in post-secondary education

Executive Summary

Proponents of British Columbia’s (BC) private education funding model have claimed that private schools provide students with an academic advantage over their public school peers. By comparing the performance of graduates of BC private and public schools at the University of British Columbia (UBC), we can test this thesis. Our results show no significant difference in the four-year retention rates or fourth year sessional average between the students. Students from private schools were more likely to graduate UBC within four years, though fewer than one-in-three of all students still completed their degree in that timespan. This result can be explained by the greater availability of university credit courses in private schools and differences in socioeconomic status between private and public school families. There was no significant difference between graduates of elite and non-elite private schools. Similarly, graduates of secular and faith-based private schools were largely identical, with the possible exception that graduates of smaller secular schools tended to have lower four-year retention and graduation rates.


  • Via a Freedom of Information request to UBC, we received a dataset including 3651 students from 162 schools.
  • After transcribing and cleaning up the data, our sample included 3605 students from 156 schools.
  • This includes 3076 students from 123 public schools and 529 students from 33 private schools.

Key findings

  • Four-year retention rates for public school graduates (86.9%) and private school graduates (88.3%) were not significantly different.
  • Fourth year sessional averages of private school graduates (73.8%) were marginally higher (p=0.107) than public school graduates (72.2%).
  • Four-year graduation rates of public school graduates (21.1%) were significantly less (p<0.001) than private school graduates (27.2%).

Our full dataset is available in Excel format.

Banner credit: Class at UBC 2 by Don Erhardt via UBC Media Relations. CC BY-NC 2.0

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