Education Indicators in Canada: Fact Sheets

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Interrupting High School and Returning to Education
April 2010

A person without a high-school diploma has very limited opportunities to contribute in today's society and economy. Not completing high school represents a great loss to society and the individual. A variety of second-chance programs have been developed by provincial/territorial education ministries to offer possibilities to young adults who have left high school to complete their diplomas at older ages.

This fact sheet looks at the proportion of young adults who have left high school without a diploma and, among them, at the proportions who have returned to obtain a high-school diploma and who progressed to postsecondary education. Knowing about the progress of these students helps us to take their needs into consideration and understand the value of second-chance programs. 

What proportion ever left high school?

Looking at Canada as a whole, between 1999 and 2007, among the young adults who were followed by the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS),1 17% had interrupted their high school education at some point, mostly before the age of 18 to 20. This represents almost 210,000 high-school students who left high school somewhere along the way.

Although getting them back on track is not necessarily easy and requires investment, the data indicate that provincial/territorial second-chance programs are successful. By the ages of 26 to 28, only 6% of the YITS cohort still had not graduated from high school and had no further education (Table 1). The remaining 11% had returned and either completed high school or entered postsecondary education.

In the provinces, 20% or more of young adults in Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta indicated that they had interrupted their high-school education at some point (Table 1). By December 2007, however, the proportion with no high-school diploma and no further education in these provinces had dropped to only 7 or 8% (Table 1). The remaining 12 or 13% eventually returned and completed a high-school diploma, or participated in a postsecondary program without first graduating from high school. This attests to the importance of second-chance opportunities offered in these provinces, although they still had the highest proportions of young adults without a high-school diploma at the ages of 26 to 28 years.

Table 1 Percentage of 26- to 28-year-old cohort who had ever left high school, compared with the percentage who had not obtained a high-school diploma (or higher) by December 2007, Canada and provinces Table 1
Percentage of 26- to 28-year-old cohort who had ever left high school, compared with the percentage who had not obtained a high-school diploma (or higher) by December 2007, Canada and provinces

In Canada as a whole, men were more likely than women to have left high school early: 19% compared to 16% (Table E.1.6). The gender gap is significant in Quebec, where 28% of men had left high school at some point, compared to 17% of women.

What proportion progressed to postsecondary education?

High-school leavers can follow various pathways back into education. While some may return to high school and graduate, and then possibly go on to pursue postsecondary education, others may undertake postsecondary education without first obtaining their high-school credential.

In the group of 26- to 28-year-olds who had interrupted their high-school education at some point, over half (55%) later returned and obtained their high-school diploma. One-third carried on and participated in postsecondary education. An additional 9% participated in postsecondary education without having obtained their high-school diploma (Table 2).

Table 2 Educational status of a cohort of 26- to 28-year-olds1 who had ever left high school, Canada, December 2007Table 2
Educational status of a cohort of 26- to 28-year-olds1 who had ever left high school, Canada, December 2007

This fact sheet illustrates that over the longer term, a majority of young people complete high school or participate in postsecondary education. Further research on the types of postsecondary institutions and programs pursued by early high-school leavers would be of interest, including mechanisms such as prior-learning assessment and adult upgrading programs. This highlights the importance of following the education pathways of young adults to better understand the challenges they face and the progress they make.

To obtain more information about the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), the data source used for this fact sheet, please visit the "Definitions, data sources and methods" section of the Statistics Canada Web site (www.statcan.gc.ca), survey number 4435. For more detailed information on the specific data referred to in this fact sheet, please see the accompanying tables, Tables E.1.4 to E.1.6.

In many cases, small sample sizes for the provinces limit the analysis that could be done at the provincial level.

For other tables related to education in Canada and other fact sheets that address education issues, please see Education Indicators in Canada: Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program. Please note that YITS data previously presented in PCEIP are not comparable with the data used for this fact sheet.

The Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program (PCEIP) is an ongoing initiative of the Canadian Education Statistics Council, a partnership between Statistics Canada and the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), to provide a set of statistical measures on education systems in Canada.


Notes

1. The Youth in Transition Survey (YITS) followed a cohort of young people for a period of eight years, from the time they were 18 to 20 years old in 1999, through to 2007, when they were 26 to 28 years old.

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