New Brunswick has the lowest rate of post-secondary graduates among all the provinces and the largest net outflow of graduates in Atlantic Canada, according to a new report from Statistics Canada.

About half – 53 per cent – of the province’s adult population had completed some form of post-secondary education in 2006, with that number rising by only five percentage points in urban centres, where the rate is typically highest.

And more than 18,200 post-secondary graduates left New Brunswick between 2001 and 2006, while fewer than 13,600 entered the province – a net outflow of close to 5,000 people.

“The numbers that came out today are yet another signal to the people of New Brunswick that it’s time to take a serious look at making some substantial changes to how post-secondary is delivered,” said Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

The numbers translate into a “real challenge” for the province going forward in a knowledge-based economy, he added, noting the low showing could be linked to economic opportunities in some regions of the province, which can negatively impact finishing rates.

“If you have a booming economy like you have in Saint John, with the energy hub and a lot of construction going on, you’ll see some people drawn out of the educational environment and into the workforce.”

New Brunswick’s rate of postsecondary graduation is almost 10 percentage points lower than British Columbia’s, which at 62 is the highest of all the provinces.

(While N.B. has the lowest rate of post-secondary graduates of all the provinces, Nunavut has a lower rate than N.B. British Columbia has the highest rate among provinces, but the Yukon has a higher rate than B.C.)

But the implications for New Brunswick’s post-secondary system are not all bad.

Among the 25-34 age range, 62 per cent had graduated from a post-secondary institution.

“What was interesting was the improvement in the younger age group,” said Statics Canada analyst Roland Hébert, noting this is indicative of the progress that’s being made in the province.

And only 11 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 25 to 34 had not completed high school in 2006 – the lowest rate among Atlantic provinces.

Conversely, one-third of adults aged 55-64 had not completed high school.

Of those who did graduate from a post-secondary institution, 16 per cent held a university degree and 21 per cent had a college diploma.

Twelve per cent had a trades certificate.

Andrew Holland, spokesperson for the Ministry of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour, said his department is reviewing the report and will brief Minister Ed Doherty when the legislature resumes next week.

“The government has recognized that these were challenges from the get-go. That’s why they’ve commenced a number of initiatives, such as the post-secondary education reforms, to improve that,” he said, referring to the Commission on Post-secondary Education report that was released late last year.

Some of the report’s key recommendations include establishing a new arms-length coordinating agency responsible for quality assurance and credit transfer; the creation of a polytechnic institution; and improvements to student aid and university funding.

Holland stressed that a number of other strides are being taken to overcome the problem, including the government’s continuing efforts to repatriate people and to retain youths and graduates.