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New research — Examining outcomes for care leavers in higher education

Drawing on the first longitudinal data set on care leavers in Australian higher education, new research led by Andrew Harvey at La Trobe University examines the access, geo-demographic profile, course selection, success, retention, and completion rates of care leavers across La Trobe and Federation universities.

The data set focuses on all aspects of the student life cycle, from pre-access though to access, attainment, and outcomes. As a result, this study provides the first clear picture of the journey of care leavers in higher education, 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 with key findings leading to eight recommendations.

Key findings:

  • There is a need for a whole of life cycle approach to supporting care-experienced students.
  • Longitudinal research highlights significant gaps in success and completion rates, which are themselves likely to lead to subsequent disparities in graduate outcomes.
  • While care experienced university students tend to be highly independent, motivated and determined, they are also more likely than the average student to face compound disadvantage.
  • Care leavers are more likely to be from regional and/or low socioeconomic status (SES) areas, to identify as Indigenous, and to have a disability, and/or caring responsibilities.
  • Care leavers are more likely than the average student to lack any fall back options — in the form of extended family they can draw on for emotional and/or material support, for instance.
  • Interviewees highlighted the importance of acquiring a sense of belonging to the university, through peer networks, support from key academic and/or professional staff members, volunteer work, or on-campus paid employment.
  • A sense of belonging was seen as critical to ensuring care leavers continued enrolment and success at university, particularly during times of crisis.


  • Governments need to systematically collect and monitor care leaver student data.
  • Universities need to: conduct targeted recruitment for care leavers; develop a focus on this cohort beyond access and participation; develop strategies to raise completion rates for care leaver students; and provide specific counselling and nuanced support for care leaver students at risk of withdrawal.
  • Organisations from community to higher education need to provide extensive career advice for people in out-of-home care.
  • Research should be commissioned into care leaver graduate outcomes.
  • Peak bodies (including Universities Australia) need to promote specific focus on out-of-home care within institutional Indigenous strategies.

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

This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

Posted 15 March 2022 Posted in Care leavers, General