Dropping out of school

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Dropping out of school

In 2021, 17.4% 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 dropoutsRe-engaging with school

*Last updated: March 18, 2024 (partial update)

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 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 government’s 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 17.4% in 2021. Taking a closer look at Montreal’s specific context helps to better understand these figures.

Changes in dropout rates

(Source: ministère de l’Éducation, Direction des statistiques et de l’information décisionnelle, information portal, Charlemagne system, data from November 2010 and August 2022)

Dropping out: costs and consequences

The consequences of dropping out, by the numbers

An update to the costs of dropping out paints a portrait of the significant social and economic consequences of leaving school for both the individual and society as a whole.

View the infographic.

Dropping out has considerable repercussions on both the person who drops out and the community as a whole. According to the 2019 study Persévérance scolaire et conciliation études-travail : une piste de solution à la pénurie de main-d’œuvre, “…students dropping out of Montréal’s public school system in the 2019–2020 school year alone will earn $261.7 million less over the course of their working lives. For the government, this represents $72.0 million in lost tax revenues from secondary 5 dropouts in these school boards. The impact on Montréal’s economy is nearly $600 million.”

Moreover, compared to high school graduates, dropouts are less civically engaged. For instance, they vote less, do less volunteer work, and make fewer donations of blood.

Dropping out also hurts the drop-outs on a personal level. People lacking high school diplomas have lower annual incomes and higher unemployment rates, are more likely to suffer from depression, and have shorter life expectancies than high school graduates (Savoir pour Pouvoir [2009]).

A weaker economy

Higher numbers of unemployed
30% of dropouts do not join the workforce.

Increased social assistance costs
Over 2/3 of social assistance program recipients are dropouts. Social assistance payments in 2018–2019 totaled approximately $3 billion.

Significant tax losses
Government tax shortfall: $72 million*

Lower economic growth
The dropout problem costs the Montreal economy $593 million*

*Costs calculated for the entire working lives of dropouts projected for 2019–2020 in the 5 school boards on the Island of Montreal.

Increased healthcare costs

– Are more likely to suffer from health problems.
– Have a lower life expectancy.




Higher costs associated with crime

62% of people who pass through the prison system are dropouts.
Each inmate costs $251 per day.

Greater inequality

Between the better and less well-off
A dropout’s average employment income is 31% lower than that of a high school graduate.

Did you know ?

The costs of not graduating are even higher for Montreal dropouts.







Earning a high school diploma leads to increased income* totalling:

  • $492,500 for women
  • $432,300 for men

*Increase over one’s entire working life.

Between men and women
Female dropouts are more severely affected by insecurity and poverty:

  • Fewer have jobs than male dropouts (difference of 21.8%).
  • Their salaries are lower than those of male dropouts (difference of 21.3%).




Download the complete infographic




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


Re-engaging with school

Re-engaging with school is an important factor in Québec’s graduation rate. The Youth in Transition Survey estimates that 65% of the young people who leave school without a diploma eventually return to finish high school.

The labour shortage can jeopardize efforts to return to school

The increasingly observed decline in enrollment in general adult education and vocational training may be due to the current labour shortage, which makes it easier to find well-paying jobs that require little or no qualification.

It is likely that easier access to the job market turns young people who would otherwise have eventually returned to school into permanent dropouts.

The costs of reduced re-engagement with school

It is estimated that a 20% reduction in re-engagement with school will considerably increase the costs associated with dropping out in Montreal, bringing the amount of lost income for dropouts to $350 million and the tax revenue shortfall for the government to $92.8 million.

1. Data for women