Dropping out of high school is for some, not a “permanent” condition; they drop out of school but later return with the intention of completing their studies. The second-chance system offers the opportunity to dropouts to indeed go back and complete the requirements for their high school diploma. A significant number of dropouts take advantage of the second chance system; some 29% of young high school dropouts aged 20 to 24 returned to school in 2004/2005. Young women take more advantage of this opportunity than men. Approximately 35% of women returned to school compared to 26% of men.
This paper examines the extent to which returns are made up of dropouts who viewed their leaving as temporary, i.e. had aspirations to obtain some postsecondary education. Furthermore, the paper explores the sources of the gender gap in high school returns. The analysis finds that very few factors influence young women’s decision to return. These factors pertain mostly to the circumstances that brought them to leave school in the first place, their aspirations for obtaining a postsecondary education, and the time elapsed since they left school. On the other hand, young men’s return to school depends on their labour market experience, past academic experience and decisions, along with postsecondary aspirations. For both women and men, results suggest that whether the absence from school was considered temporary, as captured by their postsecondary aspirations and having taken a pre-postsecondary mathematics course in high school, is a major determinant of the return decision.
Future research should pay attention to two issues raised in this paper. First, the timing of the return seems crucial for women: the more time elapsed since they left high school, the less likely they are to return. This observation begs the question of whether the timing of return is universally important for all female dropouts or for a particular sub-group. Young women may face new obstacles to returning as their situation changes. Such work could explore for example the impact of parental responsibilities and possible financial obstacles. The second issue necessitating further work is to understand why anywhere between 50% and 60% of returns – putting those still enroled aside – do not succeed in obtaining a diploma or certificate. These individuals demonstrated a desire to obtain a diploma by returning to school and yet, do not succeed in meeting their goal. What stands in the way of returnees? Does the second-chance system really meet their needs? Future cycles of YITS will help to further the understanding of patterns of re-enrolments and further dropouts.