While the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education in Australia has doubled in recent years, the gap between their attainment and the attainment of other Australians has remained consistent.

It is essential to elucidate the factors that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ academic success, not in order to justify the exclusion of these students from tertiary education, but to refine and develop curriculum and management strategies which promote their academic success. This study focuses on Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander students’ experiences in a diploma program offered in block mode, in order to better understand the “on-” and “off-” campus experiences which are related to academic success and the factors which challenge or enhance students’ study.

The research yields important findings related to students’ motivations to enrol and their definitions of academic success; the challenges they experience in making the transition to tertiary study; the vulnerability of our students’ determination to succeed; the effects of being in a program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students; and the ways in which minor challenges, if unresolved, can accumulate to interfere with students’ study.