Dropping out of school

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Dropping out of school

In 2017, 15.9% of Montreal youth dropped out before graduating.

Related pages

Definition | Dropout indicator | Dropout rates declining in Montreal | Changes in the dropout rate | Costs and consequences | Classification of dropouts

*Last updated: April 30, 2019

Definition of dropping out

Dropping out of school refers to abandoning one’s schooling before getting an initial diploma. This can be a high school diploma (DES), a vocational diploma (DEP), or a qualification (training certificate in a semiskilled trade or prework training certificate).
Students do not drop out of school overnight. Dropping out is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Throughout their schooling, youth are constantly influenced by various factors called “determinants of school perseverance“. When these factors have a negative influence, they are called risk factors. Risk factors increase the likelihood that a student will struggle at school, which can lead to dropping out. Determinants of school perseverance include motivation and engagement, self-esteem, parental supervision, school climate, and community resources.

Dropout indicator: rate of students leaving school without a diploma or qualification

To quantify the dropout rate in Québec, the ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur (MEES) calculates the rate of school leavers, among students enrolled in youth-sector general education in a given year, who leave without a diploma or qualification. The rate is calculated annually.

A dropout, also called an “early school leaver,” is a student who was enrolled in Secondary 1 to 5 of Québec’s youth-sector general education program as of September 30 of a given year but who cannot be found in any general education youth-sector teaching establishment, adult-sector program, or vocational program in Québec during a follow-up almost two years later.

Rate of early school leavers = students leaving school without a diploma or qualification / All high school leavers enrolled in youth-sector general education


  • Unless otherwise indicated, the indicator used throughout this site is the public-sector dropout rate, since the government’s graduation rate targets are based on public-sector parameters.
  • Due to methodological differences, the dropout rate cannot be calculated simply by subtracting the graduation rate from 100%.

For further details and information on the dropout rate, please visit the MEES website. (French only)

Dropout rates declining in Montreal

For several years, the dropout rate has been declining in Montreal. At 24.6% in 2009, it dropped to 15.9% in 2017. Despite this notable improvement, no fewer than 1,822 students left school without obtaining a diploma in 2017. Taking a closer look at Montreal’s specific context helps to better understand these figures.

Changes in dropout rate

Montreal 2009 Montreal 2017
Total 24.6% 15.9%
Girls 20.6% 13.2%
Boys 28.5% 18.4%

(Source: ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur, Direction des statistiques et de l’information décisionnelle, information portal, Charlemagne system, data from November 2010 and February 2018)

Dropping out: costs and consequences

Dropping out has considerable repercussions, on both the dropout and on society as a whole. A report entitled Savoir pour Pouvoir (2009), by the Groupe d’action sur la persévérance et la réussite scolaires au Québec, noted that in current values, the dropping out of 28,000 youth per cohort represents a loss of $1.9 billion in revenue for the government. This shortfall is made up of uncollected sales and income taxes but also of additional social costs generally associated with dropouts over the course of their lives. In addition, compared to high school graduates, dropouts are less active as citizens. For example, they tend to vote less often, do less volunteer work, and donate blood less frequently.

Dropping out also harms people on an individual level. People without high school diplomas tend to have lower annual incomes and higher unemployment rates, are more likely to suffer from depression, and have lower life expectancies.

Average annual income

  • Dropouts: $25,000
  • High school graduates: $40,000

Average unemployment rate

  • Dropouts: 15%
  • High school graduates: 7%

Risk of adult depression[1]

  • Dropouts: 15%
  • High school graduates: 9%

Average life expectancy

  • Dropouts: 75 years
  • High school graduates: 82 years

Dropouts, who are they?

Dropouts present a wide range of characteristics. Janosz et al. (2006) have classified them into four distinct types: quiet, maladjusted, disengaged, and low-achiever.

Quiet – 40% of dropouts

  • Tend to come from socioeconomically disadvantaged neighbourhoods
  • Like school
  • Say they are engaged with their education
  • Present no behavioural problems
  • Grades are nevertheless low

Maladjusted – 40% of dropouts

  • Present behavioural problems
  • Also tend to fail at school
  • Problems present in several areas of their lives (school, family, and social)
  • Have troubled family environments

Disengaged – 10% of dropouts

  • Say they are disengaged with school, school does not make sense to them
  • Have some behavioural problems
  • Have average grades

Low-achievers – 10% of dropouts

  • Very poor grades; tend to fail or repeat grades
  • This affects their motivation at school
  • Present no or few behavioural problems


1. Data for women