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What we are doing works! Maintaining favourable retention in the STEPS enabling course in an Australian university
Retention strategies in higher education contexts continue to be posited as an antidote for attrition, yet many complexities are embroiled in this problematic dichotomy. With far broader access to higher education by a more diverse group of citizens than ever before, and varied entry points to facilitate such inclusion, significant emphasis is being placed on how to retain contemporary university students, growing numbers of whom do not necessarily fit the mould of the ‘traditional’ student'. For many years, the Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS) pre-university enabling course at CQUniversity Australia has typically attracted students from one or more multiple government designated equity groups, and experienced a sustained record of retention. Why such favourable retention persists in STEPS is the motivation behind this paper, findings from the analysis of student data revealing preeminent factors positively impacting their engagement and consequent retention. In summary, these factors include pedagogical and relational strategies that promote a sense of belonging, and comfortable learning environments that enhance self-development, self-awareness, confidence and empowerment. However, overwhelmingly rated highly by students was the significant role of empathetic lecturers who challenged and supported their students through scaffolded, meaningful learning resources and who provided pastoral support. Examples of best practice outlined in this paper not only have leverage in facilitating student retention within enabling education contexts, but also in the undergraduate arena, in which growing numbers of non-traditional students now participate.