School completion rates in the region—and why it matters

Since WWII Australia has lagged behind other developed countries in school completion rates. That gap has been reduced but many young people are still not completing Year 12 or equivalent. The 2011 census found that 78% of 19 year olds had completed Year 11 or higher and 69% completed year 12.

Regional youth have lower school completion rates and are less likely to be attending school or other educational institutions, including universities and technical colleges.

Almost half of 19 year olds in the Gascoyne and the Mid West (48% and 49% respectively) completed Year 12.  The Mid West did better at getting youth through Year 11 with 70% completing but in the Gascoyne only 56% had gained Year 11 or higher.

Why does it matter? Economist (and now member of parliament) Andrew Leigh has used Australian data to show that completing Year 12 brings a massive 30% gain in personal income.

What is more, it is difficult to bring young people back into education and training after they have left. Researchers at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research have shown that the likelihood that early school leavers will re-engage with education or training in the future declines dramatically over time.  Youth who are chronically unemployed are the least likely to take up vocational or other studies.  The early school leavers most likely to re-engage are those who are employed and satisfied with their job.  But, the early school leavers are the least likely to get employment.

As both academic papers conclude, government and private investment to ensure all youth complete Year 12 and are helped along a pathway to meaningful employment or study will result in the greatest rewards to the individuals, their families and communities.

The major cities can offer a diversity of employment and training programs, giving every young person a good chance to find something that appeals to him or her.  Australia’s regions are constrained; local technical colleges and regional university campuses struggle to attract enough students to make courses viable and labour markets are small.

The Mid West, which includes the City of Greater Geraldton, has made rapid progress in getting young people to complete Year 11 or higher.  In 2001 and 2006 censuses the proportion on 20-24 year olds completing Year 11 was only 61%.  By 2011 programs that encourage secondary school students to take vocational courses at the local TAFE have pushed the rate to 70%.

Smaller regions such as the Gascoyne may always be at a disadvantage unless new approaches to assist youth to complete school are found. The Gascoyne has had no improvement in the proportion of 20-24 year olds completing Year 11 in the past ten years although the proportion of 20-24 your olds who completed year 12 rose from 41% to 48%.

This is part of a series of posts on how regional youth are faring. The data comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 2011 Census and specific information I generated from the excellent TableBuilders Pro program on the ABS website.

Thank you to Alan Bradley, CEO of the Regional Development Australia Mid West Gascoyne for commissioning this profile of regional youth.


Black, David, Polidano, Cain and Yi-Pin Tseng. The Re-engagement in Education of Early School Leavers. Economic Papers, Vol 31, No 2, pp 202-215, 2012.

Leigh, Andrew. Returns to Education in Australia. Economic Papers, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 233-249, 2008.

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