Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Youth in Transition Survey: Participation in postsecondary education

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

The Daily

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
December 2005

Four out of every five young people whose major transitions in life were tracked over a six-year period had undertaken some form of postsecondary education by the time they reached their mid-twenties, according to a new study.

right click the chart to save it.

As of December 2005, 79% of the young people who participated in the longitudinal Youth in Transition Survey, cycle 4, had gone to a postsecondary institution, such as a college, university or other type of institution.

This was a vast improvement from the outset of the study in December 1999. At that time, when these same young people were 18 to 20, just over one-half (54%) had taken a program in a postsecondary institution.

Note to readers

This report uses data from the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), a longitudinal survey undertaken jointly by Statistics Canada and Human Resources and Social Development Canada. The survey is designed to examine the major transitions in the lives of youths, particularly between education, training and work.

In YITS, the same respondents are contacted at two-year intervals, and therefore the survey provides information on patterns of education and work activities over time for the same individuals.

This report uses data from the first four cycles of YITS to examine the relationship between demographic, family and school characteristics and participation in postsecondary education.

In the first cycle of YITS, collected in 2000, the youths in the survey were aged between 18 and 20 and their education and labour market status were assessed as of December 1999.

The same respondents were re-interviewed two, four and six years later, in 2002, 2004 and 2006, and their activities measured as of December 2001, 2003 and 2005.

However, the study found evidence that the participation rate among these young people had reached a plateau by the time they were aged 24 to 26.

The participation rate of 79% was only 2 percentage points higher than it had been two years earlier, in December 2003.

This growth in postsecondary participation during the six-year period was mainly attributable to gains in university attendance. As of December 2005, 40% of these young people were attending university, double the rate of 21% six years earlier.

During the same period, participation rates for both college/CEGEP and other postsecondary institutions increased by only 3 percentage points from 23% to 26%.

Among those who went on to postsecondary education, three-quarters (75%) had graduated as of December 2005, when they were 24 to 26. Of this group, 16% were pursuing further studies.

About 9% of the total had not graduated but were still in postsecondary education. An estimated 15% had dropped out.

Wide variety of traits distinguished youth who went to postsecondary institutions

The study identified a wide variety of characteristics that distinguished youth who undertook postsecondary education from those who did not, or those who dropped out. These included demographic and family characteristics, high school engagement, academic performance and first-year postsecondary experiences.

More women than men had participated in postsecondary education and their participation rate was higher for both university and college. The gap was observed in December 1999 and has not changed over time.

Young people from visible minority groups were more likely to participate in postsecondary education, especially university. In addition, a rural background, as opposed to an urban background, also appeared to be a factor, especially for university. Rural students were less likely to continue their schooling after high school.

Rural students were more likely to attend a college/CEGEP or other type of institution rather than a university. This may have been because for rural students, colleges/CEGEPs are more likely to be closer to home than universities.

Family structure and parental educational attainment were related to postsecondary participation. The proportion of youth who participated in postsecondary increased as the level of parental education increased.

The value that parents place on education also appeared to influence young people. Nearly twice as many youth whose parents thought postsecondary education was important enrolled in a postsecondary program compared with those whose parents thought it was not important. Also, those who attended were twice as likely to choose to go on to university.

Good grades and positive interactions in high school, both academically and socially, appeared to be a factor. Youth who were very engaged in high school were more likely to attend a postsecondary institution.

This engagement may even compensate for grades. Among those youth who reported a grade average of 60% or less, more than one-third went on to postsecondary education.

Almost one young adult in seven drops out of postsecondary education

Among the 963,000 young people who were between the ages of 18 and 20 in December 1999, and had participated in postsecondary education by December 2005, roughly 143,000 had dropped out.

This represented an overall postsecondary education dropout rate of nearly 15%, or almost one in every seven students.

On a provincial basis, dropout rates were lowest in Prince Edward Island and highest in Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia.

The study found that the characteristics related to participation in postsecondary education were also related to graduation and persistence. The factors that had a bearing on not participating were also associated with dropping out.

A higher proportion of women than men had completed a first diploma by the time they were between the ages of 24 and 26, and a smaller proportion had dropped out.

In addition, a higher proportion of rural students participating in postsecondary education dropped out compared with urban students. Rural students were also less likely to have gone on to further education after completing a first diploma.

Family issues were also important. A larger proportion of students who were living with both parents during high school had completed their postsecondary education by December 2005, compared with those from other family types. Also, a smaller proportion of students from an intact family left postsecondary education before completion. The dropout rates were similarly lower for youth whose parents considered it important to pursue education.

Learning strategies develop early, often before starting postsecondary education. Asked about the time they spent doing homework in high school, only half the postsecondary dropouts reported having spent more than three hours a week. This compares with 72% of postsecondary graduates who were continuing their education.

First year of postsecondary studies is critical

Survey data suggest that the first year of a postsecondary program is critical for young people.

The study found that most postsecondary education graduates, and those pursuing further education, had attempted multiple programs. On the other hand, nearly two-thirds (64%) of dropouts had attended only one program, a much higher proportion than for other postsecondary participants. This suggests dropping out appears to occur early in the postsecondary process.

First-year experience was positive for the majority of youth who attended college or university. However, in the first year, those who eventually dropped out were already struggling in terms of meeting deadlines, academic performance and studying patterns.

Compared with graduates, more dropouts felt they had not found the right program. On average, they spent less time studying, which was also reflected in their overall grade average. Consequently, more of them were thinking about leaving the postsecondary program in their first year.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4435.

The report, "Participation in Postsecondary Education: Graduates, Continuers and Drop Outs, Results from YITS Cycle 4" (81-595-MIE2007059, free), is part of the Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics - Research Papers series, now available on the Publications module of website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-9040;, Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.

Tables. Table(s).