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University aspirational pathways for metropolitan and regional students: Implications for supporting school-university outreach partnerships


  • Lynette Anne Vernon Murdoch University National Centre in Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University
  • Stuart Watson Murdoch University
  • Andrew Taggart Murdoch University



University aspirations, university expectations, regional, metropolitan, high-school-students, partnerships


Young people in low socioeconomic (SES) regions, including regional and rural areas of Australia, aspire to attend university after high school at a comparable rate to young people in higher SES regions. However, without concrete opportunities to support and develop their aspirations, students in regional areas are unable to internalize the goals of a university education. Therefore, university participation rates are lower for regional than metropolitan students. This study examines the roles of aspiration and expectation to attend university for regional and metropolitan high school students living in a low-SES region of Western Australia, where a four-year university aspiration project was implemented. Specifically, the directionality of the development of university desire and expectation is tested using data collected over 18 months within a cross-lagged modeling framework. Differences within the region are explored using multiple group analysis, comparing the model of a regional sample with the model of propensity-score matched metropolitan sample. The results demonstrate that for metropolitan students within the region, higher early university desire feeds higher university expectations, which, in turn, crystalise subsequent university desires. For regional students, however, the cross-lagged effects were not demonstrated, suggesting other neighbourhood factors, beyond familiarity with university pathways, remain for when low-SES students live further from a major city. These findings suggest that within the same low-SES region, there is variation in how the culture and neighborhood factors interact to determine the efficacy of university participation widening programs. Addressing logistic factors that restrict access to university may further reduce the participation gap.

Author Biographies

Lynette Anne Vernon, Murdoch University National Centre in Student Equity in Higher Education, Curtin University

Currently Lynette Vernon is working as a Post Doctoral Fellow in collaboration between Murdoch University and the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University. Lynette previously worked as Project Manager for a Murdoch program which aimed to widen access and improve participation in higher education for disadvantaged students. Lynette has a Bachelor of Science from UWA and Diploma in Education from Edith Cowan University. She has taught  science for the Department of Education WA for over 20 years, as well as taught in rural Queensland for 3 years. While teaching she completed a Graduate Diploma in Psychology at Charles Sturt University. In 2009 she completed her Honours in Psychology at Murdoch University and PhD in 2017.

Stuart Watson, Murdoch University

Stuart Watson is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, who completed a PhD in Developmental Psychology at Griffith University in 2015. This year, Stuart has joined the perinatal mental health team under than guidance of consultant psychiatrist and Foundation Chair in Perinatal Psychiatry, Professor Megan Galbally. Stuart has worked on several strongly translational research projects since completing a B.Psych (honours) in 2008, across a broad range of areas relating to psychology, health and education. Topics covered include stress, coping and well-being during young adulthood; adolescent activity participation and well-being; adolescent technology and social networking use and well-being; social and cultural determinants of post-secondary education access and participation; and suicide prevention. During full-time employment, he also completed a PhD.

Andrew Taggart, Murdoch University

Professor Taggart is currently Provost of Murdoch University and provides senior level support for domestic student recruitment and leads local, regional and national engagement. Professor Taggart received his PhD in Education from Ohio State University and was previously Pro Vice Chancellor Engagement at Murdoch University. In this role, as Pro Vice Chancellor he had responsibility for building broad ranging research and teaching relationships with key stakeholders. With special focus on the Perth’s Southern Corridor, Professor Taggart has led the recruitment of ‘low SES/First in Family’ students to attend university and the development of partnerships with all schools in the region. Of particular significance is his leadership in the MAP4U social inclusion in education project – with over $5million in funding for increasing educational participation and attainment.


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How to Cite

Vernon, L. A., Watson, S., & Taggart, A. (2017). University aspirational pathways for metropolitan and regional students: Implications for supporting school-university outreach partnerships. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 28(1), 87–103.