La Trobe University – School Partnerships Program
La Trobe University’s School Partnerships Program is designed to increase the number of students attending university from low SES backgrounds. The University collaborates with 32 low SES schools in metropolitan and regional Victoria to deliver a sequential framework of engagement activities that support the demystification of higher education and provide extra curriculum support, academic preparation, and awareness of university courses and future careers.
La Trobe University campuses are situated in regions where several schools record relatively low transition rates of their students to higher education.
The School Partnerships Program addresses this issue by providing students from 32 low SES schools with greater knowledge of higher education and related careers, including through discipline-specific workshops; and increased learner confidence and capacity, allowing students to have more informed aspirations and capabilities around post-secondary education.
Activities and Progress
In 2011, the School Partnerships Program commenced with 15 low SES schools in regional and metropolitan areas. Since then, the program has expanded to 32 disadvantaged schools. In 2016 there were over 18,000 student attendances in the program.
Activities undertaken include: curriculum-linked workshops or laboratories; university campus tours and engagement activities; and school-based presentations. Through carefully planned events delivered from La Trobe University’s campuses located in Melbourne, Bendigo, Albury Wodonga, Shepparton and Mildura, students participate in interdisciplinary, innovative, challenging and flexible workshops.
In 2016, over 300 events were conducted to stimulate interest in the following disciplines:
- social sciences
Past workshops have included media studies, videography, creative writing, printmaking, business, biology, chemistry, electronic engineering, information technology and physics.
In response to initial evaluations, participating schools worked with the University to raise teacher expectations of student performance, and to embed knowledge of the program across the entire school. Biennial evaluation, involving surveys of around 6,500 students and 790 staff across the participating schools, has enabled each school to benchmark their performance against other program schools and address specific issues of interest.
Evaluations have found improved post-secondary transition rates for students at participating schools. For example, from 2012–15, La Trobe University’s enrolments from School Partnerships Program schools increased by 38 per cent, compared to 19 per cent for comparator schools.
Evaluations have also identified a measurable increase in student aspiration since the start of the School Partnerships Program. Students reported an improved understanding of the partnership scheme, increased parental support for university study, and were more likely to feel that university study was a good option for themselves and their peers.
Teachers agreed that students were more likely to aspire to university, were better informed of their post-school options, and that parents were more likely to be knowledgeable of university options.
With the support of the HEPPP, the School Partnerships Program is improving access for low SES students, evidenced by increased university enrolments and the endorsement of teachers that the program is contributing to positive change. The program has been regularly evaluated, and the comprehensive biennial surveys have enabled longitudinal data to be collected to inform program expansion and reform.
The program is also now being expanded to further educational sites. Following the University’s research into care leavers in higher education, the program now plans to expand outreach activities to alternative schools and other non-traditional learning sites.
The School Partnerships Program is fully HEPPP funded but is being positioned as an integrated program within La Trobe University’s broader equity strategy.
This case study was one of 35 featured in the NCSEHE’s 2017 publication Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program: Seven Years On.