In previous blogs, I’ve written about how success coaching can benefit both students and coaches themselves. But what about the university as a whole? Besides helping our students achieve success, one of the things I’m most proud of about the success coaching program at my university is that, because of our work, we have been able to affect change campus-wide. This is partly because success coaches are nexuses of communication, acting as liaisons between our students and their professors, coaches, and administrators. Over time, that unique role has enabled us to provide valuable feedback to the administration, sometimes ending in policy changes or the creation of additional resources that benefit not only our students but all students.
Take the example of a new major that was created a few years ago. Almost immediately, success coaches started to notice that an unusually high percentage of students entering as freshman with that particular major were being admitted on academic warning or probation. Those students, consequently, were enrolled in the success coach program automatically, and so it was success coaches who first noticed the trend. For reasons we do not yet completely understand, it seems that the kind of students who gravitated toward that major were more likely to enter school underprepared than were students with different majors. Once we realized this, we were able to take our findings to the faculty members recruiting students for this major and then the admissions office, which led to a discussion of how best to tighten up our admissions standards in this area.
Success coaches have also been able to contribute toward change on a university-wide level as it affects our policies toward international students. As we are working one-on-one with many of these students on the ground, we have, at times, been able to notice cultural issues that may provide challenges for entire groups of students. For example, we have a high number of students from a particular region of the world in which the idea of punctuality is not the same as it is in the U.S. Many of these students were perpetually late to class, and most did not realize that this lax attitude toward an on-time ETA came across as disruptive and disrespectful. Because so many of them were working with success coaches, we were able to notice the trend and connect it to problems with cultural translation. Thus, we were able to bring the issue to the attention of both the head of career development and the point person for international students, adding to a list of things we want to make sure to address with our international students as soon as they arrive on campus.
Finally, our experiences working with students on the low end of the GPA scale have helped professors understand and tweak their curricula, and it has led to the addition of resources for students struggling in certain core subjects. Students may need help in these areas for many reasons, but it is often success coaches who are able to make the initial prognosis. I once had a student who was failing math. He had come directly from community college where he had not needed to take any math courses, and before that he had not been required to take math as a senior in high school. His math grades from freshman through junior of high school were good enough to place him out of remedial math, but by the time he got to my university it had been three years since he’d done more than add tip to a restaurant check. He simply needed a refresher course, and working together with the math department, we were able to get him up to speed before the dark mark of a failing grade was forever on his transcript.
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.