More students go to post-secondary, but one in seven drop out - Macleans.ca

More students go to post-secondary, but one in seven drop out

Four out of five young people take some kind of post-secondary education by the time they reach their mid-twenties, according to new Statistics Canada data released Tuesday. But of those, almost one in seven students drop out. It also showed that urban students and those living with both parents more likely to pursue higher education.

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Urban students and those living with both parents more likely to pursue higher education

Four out of five young people take some kind of post-secondary education by the time they reach their mid-twenties, according to new Statistics Canada data released Tuesday. But of those, almost one in seven students drop out.

The report, called the Youth in Transition Survey, looked at how young people shift between high school, post-secondary education, and work. The survey contacted the same sample group every two years starting in 1999 to track transitions. It also noted contributing factors such as demographic, family background, and school situation.

By September 2005, 79 per cent of the sample group had attempted post-secondary education. Half of those had attended university, one third had enrolled at a college or CEGEP, and less than one fifth had studied elsewhere such as at a private college.

The 2005 participation rate of 79 per cent was a large jump from the outset of the study. In 1999, when the sample group was 18 to 20 years old, only 54 per cent were taking post-secondary education. But the 2005 participation rate was only two per cent higher than the rate from 2003, indicating that number of the sample group attending post-secondary education had plateaued by the time they were 24 to 26 years old.

Despite the rise in post-secondary participation, 15 per cent of those who gave post-secondary education a shot dropped out. The main reason for students dropping out is that they didn’t like the program, according to Danielle Shaienks, project leader for the survey. But financial barriers were also a major reason.

The data showed that a students’ experience in their first year of study was crucial to whether they would graduate from the program. Students who dropped out were already struggling in their first year with deadlines, academic performance, and study patterns.

But selecting the right program is also an important indicator of whether a student will drop out. Most graduates had tried more than one program before settling on their educational course, while two thirds of dropouts had only tried one program.

Shaienks noted that this data shows that students who are likely to drop out can be identified early. The report stated, “Learning strategies develop early, often before starting postsecondary education.” Half of post-secondary dropouts report doing more than three hours a week of homework during high school compared to over three quarters of graduates.

Although the study didn’t track parental income, some people speculated that financial barriers were an issue. NDP education critic Denise Savoie believes that Canada’s financial aid system has not leveled the playing field for students and that all qualified students should be able to access finding to assist ensure access to higher education.

“I’ve advocated the government to establish a comprehensive needs-based grant system. That solution would help to some extent with some of those issues,” she said. “All competent, motivated students who are qualified should have access to grants.”

The survey also demonstrated that more women participate in post-secondary education than men, although the gap had not changed since 1999. Also, visible minorities were more likely to pursue higher education, especially university.

Students from rural backgrounds were less likely to go on with their education and more likely to drop out if they did attempt post-secondary studies. They were more likely to attend college than university, possibly because colleges are closer to home. They were also less likely to go on in university after completing their first diploma or degree.

This is troublesome, says Savoie, who noted that there are no federal grants that target rural students. “The complexity of our student aid system and its inadequacy doesn’t make it easy for students to access,” she said, and went to say that grants should also target aboriginal students.

“The bottom line is that we have to move away from considering education to be a private good,” Savoie said. “Education costs should not be prohibitive for lower and middle class families. As a society, we benefit as a whole. It’s not just about producing students who can fit like cogs into the economy.”

Family structure also seems to play a role in who pursues and successfully completes post-secondary education. A larger portion of students living with both parents during high school went on to post-secondary and were more likely to graduate than others.