Question #3: What’s the difference between a student having a success coach and working with professors during office hours?
A success coach’s job is not to help students with their classwork (though we’ve been known to read a chapter or two with a student or spend a session digging into some material with which he or she is particularly struggling), but to make sure they can successfully access the resources on campus that provide help. This includes seeing professors during office hours which, of course, has tremendous value, but it can also mean connecting a student with a tutor or group session. To some, this can seem like unnecessary “middle-manning.” Why can’t students just find those resources themselves? Why don’t they just make an appointment with a professor or walk into the tutoring center and ask for a tutor? Well, some students can. Some students arrive on campus with the maturity and self-assurance to walk right up to a professor after class and announce that they need a little one-on-one time, but many don’t. Some are savvy enough to seek out resources like tutoring or a study group, but some don’t even know where to begin. And for those students, it can be harder than you think to get them to actually follow through.
Success coaches have a broader, more holistic view of a student’s workload and life in general than a professor or a faculty advisor may be able to have. Because I am looking at the big picture, I may know that registering for two writing-intensive courses might be perfectly okay for Student A but potentially disastrous for Student B. I know that, because Student C is involved in a sport during a particular semester, it’s even more important that he manage his time well and stay healthy.
I have also found that, because our relationship with students exists solely in a student/coach capacity (we have no power to influence a student’s GPA, for example), students often open up to us earlier and more fully than they might a professor or even faculty advisor. As part of a recent effort to redevelop our first year experience program, we sent a questionnaire to our current upperclassmen regarding the ways in which they thought we could improve students’ experiences as freshmen. Many of these juniors and seniors noted that, despite the ways in which we tried to foster relationships between students and their freshman seminar instructors, many students were reluctant to do so. Students reported not wanting to tell these instructors- who are all professors at the university- about their personal lives or academic struggles because they felt like that information might work against them if in the future they took a course with that professor.
Professors, faculty advisors, counselors, athletic coaches, and success coaches are all part of the same team, though each team member has a different primary function and focus when it comes to helping students succeed. With everyone working together, we can increase retention and graduation rates in our universities and colleges.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.