The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Success, retention, and completion of care leaver students in Australian higher education

Written by Andrew Harvey1, Naomi Tootell2, Beni Cakitaki2, Anna To3, David McGinniss3, Teresa Tjia3

International evidence confirms that care leavers (those who have left foster, kinship or residential care) often record poorer completion rates and graduate outcomes than other university students (Courtney, 2016). Recent research from both the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) confirms that lower completion rates and outcomes are the result of multiple factors, including intersectional inequality. Care leavers, for example, are more likely to declare a disability, hail from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, and record low grades in secondary school, all of which are correlated with lower university completion (Sebba, Berridge, Luke, Fletcher, Bell, Strand, Thomas, Sinclair & O’Higgins, 2015). Despite quantitative analysis of course selections, completions and outcomes in the US, UK, and elsewhere, equivalent work has not yet been conducted in Australia.

In the absence of government collection of data, the primary source of quantitative, longitudinal data on care leavers in Australian higher education has resided with La Trobe University and Federation University Australia. Since 2016, as part of their collaborative Higher Education for Care Leavers Strategy (“the Strategy”), both universities have been systematically identifying care leaver students enrolled across the two institutions. The Strategy draws on the evidence compiled in Out of Care, into University (Harvey, McNamara, Andrewartha & Luckman, 2015), the subsequent report, Recruiting and supporting care leavers in Australian higher education (Harvey, Campbell, Andrewartha, Wilson & Goodwin-Burns, 2017) and related research by the investigators at both universities (e.g., Wilson, Harvey & Mendes, 2019). Focussed on all aspects of the student lifecycle, from pre-access though to access, attainment, and outcomes, the Strategy has also resulted in the first longitudinal data set on care leavers in Australian higher education.

Drawing on these data, this report examines the access, geo-demographic profile, course selection, success, retention, and completion rates of care leavers across the two universities. In doing so, we provide the first clear picture of the journey of these previously ‘invisible’ students. Data analysis is complemented by interviews with care leaver students and graduates to explore challenges around completion, employment, and broader graduate outcomes.

Read the full report: Success, retention, and completion of care leaver students in Australian higher education


1Griffith University, formerly La Trobe University
2La Trobe University
3Federation University Australia