Educational attainment of person

Status: This was the departmental standard from June 20, 2011 to April 06, 2016.


Educational attainment refers to the highest level of schooling that a person has reached. At the primary and secondary school level, educational attainment refers to the number of grades completed. At the postsecondary level, it refers to institutions attended and certificates, degrees or diplomas obtained.

Person refers to an individual and is the unit of analysis for most social statistics programs.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard is compatible with the United Nations (UN) recommendation for measuring educational attainment. The UN states the following in defining educational attainment (Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008, p.148-149):

Educational attainment is defined as the highest grade completed within the most advanced level attended in the educational system of the country where the education was received. Some countries may also find it useful to present data on educational attainment in terms of highest grade attended...For international purposes, a "grade" is a stage of instruction usually covered in the course of a school year. Information on educational attainment should preferably be collected for all persons 5 years of age and over.

This standard follows the recommendations of the UN in measuring the grade or programme level completed in educational institutions. The exception being the class "Some postsecondary education (highest)" which includes persons who have received some postsecondary education but, have not received a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree.

The UN concept of Educations attainment does not include credentials conferred by professional organisations. (Source: Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 2, 2008). Such credentials are excluded from the current standard.

Another relevant international standard is the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED). ISCED classifies educational programmes and includes a classification of the levels of educational attainment. This standard does not use ISCED but, rather, a classification that reflects the language used to describe education levels in Canada.


Relation to previous version

  • Educational attainment of person May 26, 2021 to current

    The wording of the definition of educational attainment has been slightly modified in English, but the meaning is unchanged. Some of the category names and definitions in each of the classifications have been modified, but the meaning is unchanged. The structure of the Classification of highest certificate, diploma or degree has been slightly modified by adding the aggregate category 'Postsecondary certificate or diploma below bachelor level', which contains trades and college certificates and diplomas, as well as university certificates and diplomas below the bachelor level.

  • Educational attainment of person April 07, 2016 to May 25, 2021

    This variable replaces the previous standard for Educational attainment. The definition and usage sections now clarify that:

    (1) Educational attainment can be measured in terms of either the highest education program that a person has successfully completed or the highest education program that a person has partially completed. The conditions for successful completion are described.

    (2) Educational certificates or diplomas awarded to the person by provincial or federal authorities, such as the journeyperson designation in the trades are included.

    The standard also now includes a section on Derivation that describes how the variable may be derived. In addition, the standard also includes the "Highest certificate, diploma or degree" classification as a means of measuring educational attainment. This classification had been included in the previous standard for Certificate, diploma or degree (now Educational qualifications).

    Revisions to the definition and usage, and the inclusion of the "Highest certificate, diploma or degree" classification in this standard reflect the new definition of Educational Attainment made by the International Standard Classification of Education and incorporated into ISCED 2011.

  • Educational attainment of person June 20, 2011 to April 06, 2016

    This variable replaces the current standard for Education attainment. The classification differs from the earlier standard in providing definitions as well as more detailed levels for postsecondary non-university certificates and diplomas obtained. A class that recognises the completion of some postsecondary education without having received a postsecondary certificate diploma or degree is also included. Finally, the class definitions at the secondary school and primary school levels provide equivalencies in the Quebec education system.

  • Educational attainment July 15, 1998 to June 19, 2011
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