Postsecondary Education Who Leaves and Why


1999 to 2001 Stats Canada report, November 2004

About one out of every seven young people aged 20 to 22 who had attended a postsecondary institution at some point in their life had left for one reason or another by December 2001, according to a new study. The most common reason they gave for leaving was a lack of program "fit."

Almost one in three reported that they left because they didn't like their program or felt that the program was not for them. A further 9% reported that their main reason for leaving was to change programs or institutions.

The report, which used data from the 2002 Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), also revealed that 1 in every 10 students who quit postsecondary education cited lack of money as their top reason for leaving.

In the first cycle of YITS, young people interviewed were between the ages of 18 and 20. The same group of students was re-interviewed two years later in 2002, when they were between 20 and 22 years old. The study used data from the first two cycles of YITS to examine factors related to entering college or university, as well as those relating to leaving postsecondary programs prior to completion.

The study showed that about 70% or 865,000 of young people aged 18 to 20 in December 1999 had participated in postsecondary education by December 2001. However, a small proportion (about 15%) had left without receiving a postsecondary diploma.

This did not necessarily mean that these young people halted their studies. Almost 40% of youth who left their postsecondary studies at the age of 18 to 20 had returned two years later.

Leavers resemble youth who don't go on to postsecondary education

The study found that the factors related to a young person's decision not to participate in postsecondary education were among the same factors related to dropping out.

For example, youth who had a high level of high school engagement (i.e., did well in high school and had a strong sense of belonging) were more likely to go to college and university and, once there, were more likely to stay. In contrast, youth who left their postsecondary education had levels of high school engagement that more closely resembled students who did not go on to postsecondary levels than those who did.

Note to readers

This release is based on the analytical article titled Who Pursues Postsecondary Education, Who Leaves and Why: Results from the Youth in Transition Survey .

This study examines some of the factors related to entry to college or university, as well as those factors related to leaving postsecondary education prior to completion.

It uses data from the Youth in Transition Survey, a longitudinal survey which first interviewed youth aged 18 to 20 in 2000, then re-interviewed the same youth two years later.

The study explores the early postsecondary experiences of youth who were 18 to 20 years old in December 1999 and compares factors related to both entry and persistence in college and university.

It also examines reasons that students gave for leaving their studies prior to completion as well as students who had dropped out of postsecondary studies, but who had returned to school by December 2001.

In addition, the educational attainment of parents and the values they placed on postsecondary education were strongly related to both participation and persistence. While more than 80% of youth whose parents had a postsecondary diploma went on to postsecondary studies, this proportion dropped to about half for youth whose parents had less than a high school diploma. Similarly, youth whose parents completed their postsecondary studies were less likely to leave than youth whose parents had a high school diploma or less.

Transition a positive experience for most young people

The transition from high school to postsecondary education was a positive experience for most young people who attended college or university. However, postsecondary leavers did not have the same experience in postsecondary education as those who stayed on. Youth who stayed in postsecondary were more likely to report that they were confident about their skills and abilities to do well, were able to become friends with other students at their new school and reported that they never thought about dropping out.

In contrast, postsecondary leavers were less satisfied with their programs. For example, 78% of people who continued their postsecondary studies, as well as graduates, felt they had found the right program for them. This was the case for only 53% of leavers.

Additionally, a lower proportion of leavers felt that first year gave them the skills that would help them in the job market, or provided them with a better idea of their future plans.

Leavers were also less likely to have higher grades during their first year of university or college. For example, only 18% of leavers reported an overall postsecondary grade average of 80% or more, less than half the proportion (37%) of those who did not leave.

When asked at the age of 18 to 20 what barriers they might see preventing them from pursuing further education, about one-third of both leavers and non-leavers responded that it was financial barriers that would get in their way. However, the top reason that leavers gave for dropping out was "lack of fit," or the need to change programs.

Although leavers in general were less satisfied with their early postsecondary experiences, almost 40% of those who left at the age of 18 to 20 returned to postsecondary studies by the age of 20 to 22.

The report Who Pursues Postsecondary Education, Who Leaves and Why: Results from the Youth in Transition Survey ( 81-595-MIE2004026 , free) is now available online.

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