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The Stellar Program

The Stellar Program has been a catalyst for introducing new ways of being, bringing together education, government bodies, students and the community


The Stellar Program seeks to improve university participation rates of students in the Clarence Valley, northern NSW. It facilitates a whole of community approach to encourage the interest, aspirations and attainment of local students who are significantly under-represented at university.

In addition to implementing university outreach activities for students, the program partners with local council and community groups to create events designed to give parents the confidence that university is a possibility for their child.


  • Southern Cross University (SCU)
  • University of New England (UNE)
  • Clarence Valley Industry Education Forum
    >>Clarence Valley Council
    >>NSW Department of Education and Communities – North Coast Region (DEC)
    >>Aboriginal Education Consultative Group – Grafton and Yamba
    >>Maclean High School
    >>McAuley Catholic College
    >>Grafton High School
    >>South Grafton High School
    >>Induna Education and Training Unit
    >>North Coast TAFE
    >>Catholic Education Office – Lismore Diocese
    >>Commonwealth Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet – Indigenous Affairs Group.

The Stellar Program aims to improve university participation rates by increasing knowledge and understanding of university and careers, building confidence and motivation, and improving academic readiness for higher education. Acknowledging the key role of teachers, families and the community in assisting students to reach their potential, the program develops community-wide partnerships and activities that equip stakeholders to support students.

The Clarence Valley is a rural community of around 50,000 people. In 2011, 32 per cent of the region’s households were LSES, compared to 25 per cent in regional NSW. Less than 1.4 per cent of the population are attending a university, below the NSW average of 4.4 per cent. The local Aboriginal population, a key partner for The Stellar Program, is large and expected to grow: almost 40 per cent of the Clarence Valley Aboriginal population is aged between 5 and 17 years.

Activities start in Year 6 with a careers unit of work, careers expo and visit to a university campus; Year 7 in-school events support students to develop their recipe for success at high school and into university; Year 8 students visit a university campus discovering university life through a ‘Great Race’ style event; Year 9 in-school events focus on university skills, and students also experience an overnight visit to a university campus; and Year 10 students attend in-school careers forums. Online tutorial support is available for students from Year 9–12, with exam resilience sessions for Year 11 and 12 students.

Activities involve peers, role models, parents/carers and teachers, in recognition that young peoples’ aspirations and engagement are shaped by key influencers. Community-centred activities include family information evenings, teacher in-service information sessions, community outdoor movie events, participation in community events such as NAIDOC day and sponsorships of local sporting festivals.

The program is having a positive impact on students’ and parent’s interest and intention towards university. In the Year 7 program (600 students), 73 per cent of students reported being more interested in going to university, and 74 per cent better understood what they had to do to get to university. Following the Year 6 campus event, 93 per cent of students reported being more confident in going to university.

“I enjoyed listening to Year 7 students discussing university options, when they should go and how fun and exciting the day was.” – teacher, Year 7 program.

Students report that engaging with current university students from their school or home town about their experiences makes a positive difference to their confidence. Parents/carers report similar benefits after engaging with local parents with students currently at university.

“Even if you’re from a small town you can go to a big uni.” – Year 7 student.

In 2014, 3,200 students will participate in The Stellar Program activities, 600 will benefit from online tutorials, and 650 parents/carers will participate in family/community events.

The Stellar Program was developed through the Clarence Valley Industry Education Forum, which brought groups together in recognition that individual organisations cannot provide the whole of community approach needed to support students to reach their goals. The partners work through a community of practice approach to make lasting changes that will have a long-term impact, not only for the individual students, but for the community as a whole.

The direction and progress of the program is set by the Steering Committee, with representation from SCU, UNE, the Department of Education and Communities, high school principals and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. Program goals and objectives were approved after widespread communication and consultation with forum members and other key stakeholders.

Student-centred activities are developed by a Working Group comprising the Stellar project team (based at SCU and UNE) and deputy principals from each school, ensuring the activities meet the needs of individual schools, and support and complement school activities. The program’s Community Engagement partners (including Clarence Valley Council, local Indigenous organisations, sporting organisations, and individual role models) implement community programs.

The partnership works because:

  • The Stellar Program is locally developed and addresses locally-identified needs
  • a genuine culture of innovation enables new and exciting activities to be trialled
  • activities respond to local needs and circumstances
  • there is a shared commitment to the importance of the work, and high levels of trust have been developed between the partners
  • the HEPPP requirement that funding not be used to promote individual universities ensures that focus remains firmly student/community centred.

Partners have developed close relationships which they are keen to maintain, and have indicated the necessity and desire to continue working together on this initiative. HEPPP-funded activities will continue through 2015 when direct grant funding finishes. Future activities will evolve to meet school and community needs and circumstances.

The Stellar Program will continue to focus on building community relationships as a key platform to provide role models to support parents and carers, who in turn support their children to reach their potential. The program has been a catalyst for introducing new ways of being, bringing together education, government bodies, students and the community.

Image depicting four types of partnerships. All four types are highlighted.

This case study is one of a series of 31 presented in our case study publication, Partnerships in Higher Education.

Posted 13 April 2015 Posted in General, Indigenous, Low SES, Regional, rural and remote