A program working to engage people experiencing disadvantage and social isolation in higher education has provided a pathway to university study for Josha-Lyn Gibson.
The 22-year-old dropped out of high school in 2014 before completing year 12 to care for her ill mother.
Ms Gibson said she felt doubtful she would be able to continue her education and find a pathway into university three years after she had dropped out of high school when she was ready to return to study.
"At the time when I dropped out of school, thinking about my pathway forward wasn't that big of an issue," she said.
"I had been to the careers counsellor and she said there would be no problem with me attending as a mature age student further down the line if I wanted to. The reality of that situation was very different. It was a massive knock to my confidence.
"I was dealing with serious depression and anxiety at the time too and it all kind of felt a bit hopeless."
Ms Gibson's counsellor referred her to the Clemente Program, an internationally renowned program that engages people experiencing disadvantage and social isolation in university-level education.
Within four weeks I had received feedback on my first essay and I realised this could actually do it for me, that there was a way back to education.Josha-Lyn Gibson
The worldwide program offers free humanities education in courses such as philosophy, history and sociology in a relaxed and casual setting.
"Within four weeks I had received feedback on my first essay and I realised this could actually do it for me, that there was a way back to education," Ms Gibson said.
"By the end of the first year I had decided I was going to work my way back into education."
The Celemente Program has been running in Ballarat since 2008 as a partnership between Australian Catholic University, Federation University Australia, Centacare, The City of Ballarat, The Ballarat Foundation and The Smith Family.
Classes are held at the Ballarat Library, avoiding a university setting that can be overwhelming to people who have been disengaged from education.
Class sizes range from 10 to 15 people and each student has a one on one relationships with a volunteer support learning partner.
Participants who complete the program graduate with other ACU graduates.
Given the right opportunity and support I think anybody could go ahead with their education and the Clemente Program absolutely provides that.Josha-Lyn Gibson
Ms Gibson said the low pressure learning environment was exactly what she needed to regain her confidence.
"There is no pressure, but all of the information and support you can get," she said.
Ms Gibson is now into her second semester of studying a Bachelor of Arts at Federation University, with plans to go on to complete a Masters degree.
She has also completed Federation University's half year Foundation Access Studies (FAST) program that prepares students with study skills for university.
"The Clemente Program gave me confidence, study skills and information about university," she said.
"Given the right opportunity and support I think anybody could go ahead with their education and the Clemente Program absolutely provides that."
ACU Clemente Ballarat academic coordinator Dr Steve Else said restoring the confidence of students was one of the key aspects of the program.
"The reason students need the program is not because they lack ability but because they have missed out on parts of their education and it has damaged their own self confidence," he said.
"Even sometimes after the first week or two the growth in their confidence is amazing as soon as they have settled down in the class and realised they have as much right to be there as anyone else."
Clemente Ballarat has entered a five-year Strategic Partnership Agreement with City of Ballarat
Councillors voted to provide $15,000 per year as part of the agreement which which will be used for part of the program's overall operating budget during the July 31 council meeting.
There are 12 students participating in the Clemente Ballarat program this semester and 106 nationwide at the seven different ACU sites.
Push for funding to start Clemente Youth
Ballarat education and social service providers are awaiting a response from the federal government on a funding application to develop a world-first program to engage youth in education.
Clemente Ballarat program partners applied for $2.8 million funding in September to establish Clemente Australia Youth, a transformational education program for vulnerable, educationally disengaged and welfare dependent young people.
The pitch for the youth program follows the success of the internationally renowned Clemente Program that engages people experiencing disadvantage and social isolation in university-level education.
If $2.8 million funding from the Department of Social Services Federal Government Community Grants Hub is secured, the Ballarat partnership will develop a youth program to roll out as a pilot in Ballarat, Bendigo, Gippsland and Hobart - areas identified with high rates of youth disengagement from education.
The 2016 Census survey identified 1500 young people or 11 per cent of the Ballarat population aged 15 to 24 were not engaged in education or employment, significantly higher than the Victorian average of 4.8 per cent.
ACU Clemente Ballarat academic coordinator Dr Steve Else said said the youth program curriculum would also focus on humanities, subjects he said had the ability to 'wake people up educationally' and give them the confidence to ask questions of themselves and of society around them.
"Given the problems with employment and student disengagement we think there is a real need for something that reconnects young people with education, gives them a boost to their self confidence and teaches them some skills that will be useful whether or not they go back into secondary education, university or into employment," he said.
"It is a course that focuses on critical thinking and emotional intelligence."