Education transitions

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Graduation from high school

When interviewed in 2000, students were 18 to 20 years old (Chart 1).  By that time, 77% had graduated from high school, 13% were high school continuers, and 11% were high school dropouts.  As expected, the proportion of continuers decreased over the eight years covered by the survey: by December 2007 all participants were either graduates or dropouts.  Some dropouts returned to school, so that the proportion of dropouts decreased by 4 percentage points to 7%.  The proportion of graduates increased with each data collection and by the time participants were 26 to 28 years old, 92% of them had graduated from high school.  During the entire time, there were more female graduates than male graduates and less female dropouts than male dropouts (see Table A.2.1 in Appendix 2).

Chart 1 - High school status over time

Postsecondary education

The proportion of participants who had undertaken postsecondary education increased from 55% when they were 18 to 20 years old to 81% when they were 26 to 28. (Table 1).  The largest increase in postsecondary education participation occurred when participants were 20 to 22 years old, following the largest increase in high school graduation.  By the time participants were 26 to 28 years old, 42% had undertaken university, 43% had undertaken college, and 29% had undertaken other postsecondary education (some of them attended two types of postsecondary institutions).  The most common form of postsecondary education attempted during the entire time for both males and females was college (at 43%).  The second most common was university (at 42%), then other postsecondary education at 29%.  More females than males attempted postsecondary education in eight years.  By the time they were between 26 and 28 years of age, postsecondary education participation for females surpassed males by 8 percentage points for university and 7 percentage points for college, although it was almost identical for 'other postsecondary education' (for example, technical institute, trade/vocational school, private training institute or business school or any other school above high school such as firefighters training or police academy etc.).

Participation for females in all forms of postsecondary education remained higher than for males.  Early on a higher proportion of females pursued their studies after high school and males decided otherwise.  Even though participation of both genders increased over the years, males were never able to close the gender gap.

Table 1 - Postsecondary participation over time

Of those participants who undertook postsecondary education, 68% had graduated by the time they were 26 to 28 years old and an additional 13% had graduated and were pursuing further education (Chart 2).  When they were 18 to 20 years old, 79% were pursuing their first postsecondary credential.  Eight years later, when they were 26 to 28 years old, all but 5% had graduated, continued on to other studies, or dropped out.  The largest jump of 6 percentage points in the dropout rate was when they were in their early twenties.  While the percentage of high school dropouts decreased consistently with time, the number of postsecondary education dropouts increased from 9% to 16% in four years between the age of 18 to 20 and 22 to 24, then back down to 14% when they were 26 to 28 years old, as some dropouts returned to finish their education.  Females continued to surpass males in graduation and graduate continuation rates but the difference remained within 2 to 4 percentage points of each other.

Chart 2 - Postsecondary education status over time

Since university degree programs are longer, none of the university students had graduated when they were 18 to 20 years old.  The largest increases occurred in their early twenties, when the proportion of university graduates jumped from 5% to 30%, then from 30% to 53% to reach 62% in December 2007, when they were 26 to 28 years of age (Table 2).  Not surprisingly, as the proportion of university graduates increased over time, the proportion of university continuers decreased consistently.  The proportion of university graduate continuers (post graduate education), however, increased with the proportion of university graduates until 2006, and then decreased from 16% to 13%.  The proportion of graduate continuers for college and other postsecondary education remained between 1% and 3% over the eight years.  For all levels of postsecondary education, the proportion of dropouts increased by the most percentage points when they were between the age of 18 to 20 and 20 to 22 years old.  For university students, the dropout rate increased over time, while for college and other postsecondary education students, the dropout rates increased slightly after the first two years and stayed constant for the rest of the period. College students had the highest dropout rate during each data collection, and university students had the lowest rate.

Table 2 - Postsecondary status over time

Educational attainment

It is no surprise that the proportions of those with a high school diploma or less decreased over the eight years (Table 3).  The proportions of those with postsecondary education attainment increased with each data collection, as participants had time to complete their educational programs. While the proportion of those with college attainment increased by the largest amount when they were between the age of 20 to 22 and 22 to 24, university attainment increased the most later, when they were in their mid-twenties.  As expected, it is only when participants were 22 to 24 years old that they completed graduate degrees.

By the time they reached 26 to 28 years old, the vast majority had achieved their highest level of schooling. A high school diploma was the most common educational attainment at 28%.  Next, college program and Bachelor's degree attainment were both at 24%, while graduate degree attainment was at 6%.  When they were 26 to 28 years old, 8% remained at less than a high school diploma, and 10% attained other postsecondary education.  Gender differences should be noted, however; a high school diploma was the most frequent credential for men at 33% but for women, a college diploma was the most frequent at 25%.  More females than males had attained postsecondary education when they were 26 to 28 years old.  The proportion of males with educational attainment of high school or less surpassed that of females by 13 percentage points.  Females exceeded males by 2 percentage points for college programs, and by 6 percentage points for Bachelor's degrees.  There were twice as many females as males that attained post graduate education.  For other postsecondary education, the numbers were similar, 10% for males and 11% for females

After 24 years of age, there was little improvement in educational attainment for those who had less than high school.   In contrast, those who had a high school diploma were able to increase their attainment.  The proportion of young adults who attained a college diploma or other postsecondary education leveled off around 22 to 24 years old.  University degrees took longer to obtain with the proportion of students who completed a Bachelor's degree leveling off later at 24 to 26 years old.

Table 3 - Highest level of education attained by gender

Characteristics associated with education attainment

Previous studies conducted with YITS data demonstrated a relationship between postsecondary participation and various demographic, family and school characteristics (Shaienks and Gluszynski, 2007).  Attainment was also associated with these characteristics.

The Atlantic Provinces and Ontario had the highest proportion of youth who obtained degrees from universities (Chart 3).  The western provinces and Quebec had the highest proportion of youth who had a high school diploma or less.  Quebec and Ontario had the highest proportion of youth with a college/CEGEP diploma as their highest level of education attained. The different conditions of the labour market in the provinces may have had an impact on the decision of youth to pursue postsecondary studies or not.

Chart 3 - Highest level of education attained by province1

The type of community in which the youth were residents when they were in high school was also related with postsecondary participation.  Having to study in a college or a university far from home certainly adds to the cost of postsecondary education.  A higher proportion of youth from a rural community completed their studies with a high school diploma or less (Chart 4).  The proportion of youth who obtained a university degree, either a bachelor or a graduate degree, was 50% higher for residents of urban communities compared to those from a rural environment.

Chart 4 - Highest level of education attained by selected demographic factors

Almost 60% of Aboriginal1 youth off-reserves had a high school diploma or less by age 26 to 28.  Less than 10% obtained a university degree.  When compared to the non-Aboriginal population, the differences were substantial.  Almost 20% of Aboriginal youth had less than a high school diploma compared to 7% for the non-Aboriginal youth.

A higher proportion of visible minority youth and youth who were not born in Canada obtained a university degree compared with Canadian born and non-visible minority youth.

Parents provide moral and financial support depending on their values and attitudes towards postsecondary education. Family structure, parental education background and the importance given to postsecondary studies were all related to education attainment of the youth.  The proportion of youth who obtained a university degree went up as parental education increased (Chart 5).  The proportion of bachelor recipients was twice as high for youth whose parents had completed postsecondary education compared with youth whose parents had less than a high school diploma.

Five times more young adults whose parents did not complete their high school did not obtain their high school diploma themselves, compared with young adults whose parents completed postsecondary education.

Chart 5 - Highest level of education attained by parent's education

The family structure also seemed to be a factor in education attainment.  The proportion of youth who had a high school diploma or less was smaller for youth who had two parents as opposed to a single-parent family or other family structure.  University degrees were also more prominent amongst students who lived with both parents when they were in high school.

The longitudinal nature of the data in the Youth in Transition Survey enabled the construction of educational pathways of students over time according to their high school behaviour including earned grades, time spent on homework and dropout episode.  Not only good marks but also good working habits and school behaviour were related to education achievement. Not surprisingly, over half of the students who reported an overall average above 80 percent in high school obtained a university degree (Chart 6).  What is worth mentioning, however,  is that almost 20% of students who reported less than a passing average in high school were able to obtain a postsecondary credential, either from a college/CEGEP or from another type of non-university postsecondary  institution.  Though high school grades were a requirement for postsecondary education, they appear to affect the type of credential rather than preventing enrolment.

Chart 6 - Highest level of education attained by high school grades

A dropout episode in high school had consequences in terms of education attainment.  Over 75% of the youth who had a dropout episode at one point during high school terminated their studies with a high school diploma or less (Table A.2.5 in Appendix 2).

The working habits developed in high school persist in postsecondary education.  Twice as many students who spent more than three hours per week on homework in high school obtained a bachelor degree and three times as many got a degree above a bachelor in comparison with those who spent less than three hours per week studying in high school.


1. The sample design of the YITS 18-20 cohort was determined by the sample design of the Labour Force Survey (LFS).  Specifically excluded from the survey's coverage are residents of the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories, persons living on Indian Reserves, full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces and inmates of institutions.  The YITS sample is therefore not representative of the aboriginal population as a whole, but is only representative of the off reserve aboriginal population.