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Nearly a quarter of Canadian students who were between 18 and 20 years old in 1999 had dropped out of a postsecondary institution by their mid-20s, a new Statistics Canada report says.

Men, children of single-parent homes and those who did less than three hours of homework a week in high school were more likely to drop out, said the report, which surveyed 12,360 students and counted leaving college for university and vice versa as dropping out, even if a student eventually graduated.

"I think the paths are not as linear as they were in the past. There's a lot more switching," said Danielle Shaienks, a project leader of Statscan's Youth in Transition Survey.

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The students were asked about their education, employment and personal characteristics in 1999, and four more times after that. The numbers for the most recent study were culled in December, 2005, when the students were between 24 and 26 years old.

The university dropout rate was about 16 per cent; in college or CEGEP, it was higher, at 25 per cent. Ms. Shaienks said the top three reasons given for dropping out were that students did not like their programs; that they wanted to work; or that they felt they did not have enough money.

While university officials insist finances should never hamper students from graduating, some admitted the current financial crisis will make doling out assistance more difficult.

"It will be a challenge to manage the budget over all, but student aid is not one of the areas [that]we cut," said Safwat Zaky, the University of Toronto's vice-provost of planning and budget.

According to the survey, men were more likely than women to drop out. Students whose parents started postsecondary education but never graduated were more likely to drop out, as were students who came from a single-parent family and those who'd had a dropout episode in high school. Those who did less than three hours of homework a week in high school were more likely to give up on their postsecondary education than their more studious counterparts were.

In Alberta, students were more likely to drop out of both college and university than anywhere else in the country.

"It might be because they have more opportunities to work and get a good salary," said Ms. Shaienks, but added that the study did not examine causes in depth.

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Meanwhile, in Quebec, students were more likely to drop out of college than university. Ms. Shaienks believes that is because Quebec students must attend CEGEP, which is comparable to community college, before entering university.

"Those who go [to university]probably know better what they want to do. They've done their trying and switching at the college level more than at the university level."

Mr. Zaky said the University of Toronto's graduation rate has remained fairly consistent at 80 per cent in the past decade, but added that students have "more choices" than their parents did, and tend to switch career goals and programs more frequently.

"It's a search for the right fit - for the program that they will like and they will want to work in. But it's costly," Ms. Shaienks said. "It's costly to the student because he has to pay tuition fees and expenses. And all those years he's in university or college, he's not working. But it's also costly for the system because governments are putting money into postsecondary institution."

Some university officials questioned Statscan's definition of a dropout. At British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, 30 per cent of incoming students arrive from college with transferred courses, said Rummana Khan Hemani, acting senior director of learning and retention at SFU student services.

Those who did not complete their college diploma beforehand would be considered dropouts under the survey's criteria.

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"Things are definitely not linear in this province," Ms. Khan Hemani said.

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