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Tis The Season.

Tis The Season.

Ready or not, the holiday season is here. However, if your anything like me, you ensure Thanksgiving is given its due respect and fight the urge to put up your Christmas tree until that Friday! While I am a sucker for a good Hallmark movie and holiday tune, those pumpkins are staying out on my doorstep until Thanksgiving has passed.

While we enjoy the parties, food and family, this season can also leave us needing a vacation from our vacation! Lots of travel, family obligations, and making sure that we are not over indulging as New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner. In addition to this chaos, there is often a financial burden that comes with holiday gift giving and making sure that we purchase the latest electronics or Hatchimals.  If you don’t know what that is…trust me, you are better for it.

With all of these moving parts, it can be hard to concentrate on the work before us. The end of the term is wrapping up, our grades are due and in order to feel like we can comfortably walk away for a few days, the last-minute details of projects that we have been working on, must get done. While we understand that this time of year can be stressful for ourselves and colleagues, it is important to remember, it can also be overwhelming for the students we serve.

For many of them, the holiday season means picking up a few shifts or working doubles to make sure they can provide for their families while continuing to try and keep up with their school work. Winter weather, health, and finances, just to name a few can suddenly become huge boulders preventing our students from moving forward. If you ask any success coach, academic advisor or faculty member, over half of their job is talking with students about matters outside of the classroom. Life hits hard and fast for all of us, yet for many of our students, taking refuge in our offices, even just for a few moments can be the peace they need to finish strong.

These moments make the difference in our retention rates, and heck they are nice for us too. Whether we are sharing stories about crazy shopping trips or burnt turkeys, these conversations with our students allow them to connect with us beyond the classroom. Student success often depends so much more on these transformational exchanges then making sure everyone is registered on time. Now registering on time is critical, yet if we don’t understand life outside the classroom, we are very likely to struggle helping our students inside of it. Simply sharing our anxieties of how to manage our time and get our kiddos to every holiday concert, can help our students feel less alone and a part of a family outside of their own. Coaching our students to finish strong, not freak out and take one step at a time can not only serve as good reminders for us, but also frankly guide them to graduation.

So, cheers to the holidays, our students and the few extra cookies that are waiting for us in the break room.

Great Conference…Now What?

Great Conference…Now What?

If you work in Higher Education, it is fairly plausible you have attended a conference (or considered doing so) in the past few weeks. It seems that “conference season” generally happens between the months of September and November. While there are a few outliers in April and others, a vast majority of sessions happen in this time period.

If your anything like me, conferences can be a bit overwhelming. An endless amount of ideas, and practices are shared. Some you hear and think “yes, we could absolutely mimic that on our campus!” Others seem a far cry of what is plausible considering the resources available. So much information can often paralyze us with indecision. Where do I start? How can I even try this?

When arriving to the conference and hearing the different ideas and fellow campus success stories, we get excited about where our team can go with retention, graduation and student success. Stories of how campuses have created and fostered growth, persistence and graduation rates are encouraging. We are re-charged and refocused, heading back to our perspective campuses ready to tackle the next student crisis with a renewed sense of purpose! The weeks that follow conferences are also met with the same road blocks, lack of budgets and students who just don’t seem to share our passion for their success.

I received great direction from a former Vice President of Student Services I once worked for. She simply said, at the end of each day and the conference in general, write down all your thoughts and everything you have learned. Make a list of 10 actionable items, reviewing the list a few times and narrowing that same list down to three initiatives. Once those three items have been identified, bring those items to me (or a supervisor) and we can develop a plan together in an effort to implement those on campus. This was huge. This did 2 things. Provided a plan of attack for the influx of information and prevented me from getting so overwhelmed and simply doing nothing at all!

This process is also true for the students that we serve. Its exciting to talk about graduation and career plans with students. They get excited too, thinking of all the possibilities ahead of them! However, this is quickly followed by all the work that goes into obtaining a degree or certification and that can be overwhelming.

Similar to the coaching my former Vice President gave to me, it’s critical we acknowledge our students go through this same process. Intrusively advising them through the work that is ahead and how to effectively plan and succeed is critical to their persistence. College and all that encompasses the process is exciting, yet overwhelming. However, if a student has a success coach, academic adviser or faculty member who is able to assist them in breaking down the process into manageable milestones, graduation will inherently follow. Accomplishing a test, class, term and year is a huge success in itself for many of our students. Let’s celebrate and appreciate those milestones and prevent them from feeling the overwhelming thought of the journey ahead.

Early Intervention- When Knowing My Name Didn’t Matter.

Early Intervention- When Knowing My Name Didn’t Matter.

This past weekend I ran a ½ marathon. This was not my first and I hope will not be my last as my results were less then desirable. I had made a promise to myself that I would run at least one ½ marathon a year, not because I particularly like race day, but training for these races will keep me in somewhat good-ish shape…I tell myself this anyway. All to say, I had trained for this race and was excited for what was ahead. That morning, came with little anxiety however,  as I did not have a running buddy therefore was relying on a carefully picked play list to carry me through. I had also made the decision not to drive the course before-hand, so as to not psych myself out. This would later prove to be one mistake of many that I would make.

So feeling all the feels, I made my second poor decision. Not wanting to run alone, I decided at the last minute to join a pace group. Pace groups are those that are led by wonderful volunteers to ensure you are running at a specific pace so that you might achieve a certain race time. I chose a group that was running at a faster pace than I have ever run a ½ marathon, not by much (I’m not that crazy), but about 40 seconds faster per mile. This may not seem too bad….but at mile 10, it feels like A LOT.

So fast forward and the race begins. I am doing ok with the pace group. Thoughts of “oh man, this is it? I can totally do this”, race through my head. I quickly make friends with the pacers and fellow racers in the group. We each have different stories and very different physical builds, but all share the same goal.  As the race continued, I started to feel the fatigue of running faster than I had ever trained for. I also learned this particular course had the most/steepest hills of any race the area had to offer. I could feel every single one.  At mile 10, I made the last bad decision that would prove to be detrimental to my race efforts. I over-hydrated. I’ll spare you the details of what comes next. All to say, I quickly found myself far behind the pace group and very alone.  I needed to mentally tough it out. I was not in good shape and quickly loosing spirit. The last 2 miles felt as if I was starting from the beginning. Hill after hill, I decided that in order to survive I needed to take a run/walk approach, walking up the last few hills. The mental games were at an all-time high. Then just at the right moment, one of the pacers that I had run with during the first 10 miles, came back on the course to get me. She stayed by my side encouraging me to keep moving forward. This was amazing. Intervention happened when I felt as if I would rather be carted off the course then take one more step. She came to get me at the perfect time and while I am certain she probably doesn’t even know my name, that doesn’t matter. She provided what I needed most. Not water or time checks but just encouragement.

We are at that time in the school year where our students may be starting to lose their excitement for classes and their collegiate journey. The initial “I got this!” has been met with a few less than perfect test scores. The fatigue of everything happening outside of classes is starting to take its toll. Students thought they knew what going to school would take and prepared for the year, yet life circumstances and possibly a few errors in judgment are starting to catch up with them.

This can be hard, student success is what we care about most, but unlike the volunteer that came back for me, she was encouraging one person, while we are trying to encourage hundreds. Not every student will show the need for early intervention, or encouragement. It may simply look like a skipped class, missed appointment or overall lack of engagement. So how do we even attempt to catch all of these behaviors when our caseloads are overwhelming on their own? Its simple. We cant. Not well, anyway. Early intervention, encouragements and alerts only work if staff is working together. A faculty member can record a missed class or lack of engagement, a success coach can record a missed meeting and a financial aid representative can become aware of financial hardship, but unless all of this information is coming together, it becomes very difficult to fully understand how to best serve our students or intervene before it is too late.

A student’s collegiate experience is a marathon not a sprint. Road blocks come in many forms and it can be hard for a success coach or faculty member to manage each student’s hurdles. Yet when we intervene and offer encouragement or work through solutions with our students at the right time, the results can not only affect our overall retention but can be life-changing for the students that we work with.

Renew, Refocus, Revitalize…Retention

Renew, Refocus, Revitalize…Retention

As the saying goes, the only thing constant is change. While this continues to be true, we can also appreciate when things stay the same. As long as those “things” are adding to our lives in a positive way.  When change does happen, it is often given a title that typically has  “re” at the beginning. Essentially, we are revisiting the way we have once done something and changing it.

With this in mind the main focus of our team at Aviso Coaching continues to be the success of our partner institutions. This will remain the same, as we lead college and universities through renewing their team’s energy, refocusing their efforts into a unified early alert software system and revitalizing student success and degree completion on their campus. We encourage campuses to change daily, even in the smallest ways to best meet the needs of their student populations. Sometimes these are easy changes, while others take time and effort to incorporate. All the while we ensure each team is fully supported.  This is our story. We are passionate about student success and retention and remain firmly focused on these initiatives.

So while our team continues to support and encourage our partnering campuses to adjust when needed, we must do the same. Therefore, we have decided to move forward with a few key modifications.

First, we wanted to make sure we were telling our story in a way that portrayed who we are and where Aviso is going. Therefore, Aviso Coaching is now Aviso Retention. Why? We have grown quite a bit in the last few years, but the laser focus on retention, student success and degree completion remains the same. We feel that Aviso Retention better captures the overall impact of our solution and the value of our partnership.

Second, while we encourage our partnering campuses to stay on the forefront of innovation and student retention, we as the Aviso team need to do the same. Therefore, we have revitalized our logo to reflect this forward movement. The transition has already begun and will continue throughout the next few months.

The success of our partners and the students they serve continues to be our priority. We are thrilled to be transitioning to Aviso Retention and excited for the years to come. Cheers to continued quality and exciting innovation!

Please take time to check out our new website: Avisoretention.com

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with the new and exciting things happening with our team!

Contact Us to learn more about our student centered retention initiatives!

Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

Change is Hard but Culture Hurts

It’s July. This month, along with BBQ’s and family trips, can often be a great time for college and university administrators to reflect, regroup and implement changes within campus structures. When addressing the implementation of changes, countless books, webinars and strategies have been developed to help ensure success. While the suggestions leading to success can be different, one thing we do know is change is hard and without a unified effort, any implementation will be sure to fail. While change management is important, one piece that can often be ignored is the campus culture leading up to it.

When thinking about change management, it is critical that college and university administrators remain cognizant of the various intricacies and consider every possible stake holder in their action research. However, even when implementing the smallest of processes, if the campus culture leading up to the transition isn’t healthy, any measure of change management will be very difficult to maintain.

Changing campus culture can hurt. Maintaining a healthy student-centered college or university can bring about challenges. It requires sacrifice, a strong sense of humility and an active presence with faculty and staff.  Consider this… when trying a new work-out or exercise routine, maybe even coming back to one that you had mastered a few years prior, it can leave you a bit sore. What seemed great at first now feels like a self-inflicted wound that simply won’t heal.  Mid-workout thoughts of “Why am I doing this?” or “Am I really paying money to feel like this?” scream through our minds as we count down the minutes until the workout is complete. Change is hard. In an effort to change your current situation, you merely exercise and while it sounds simple, because we all appreciate when A + B = C, there are factors surrounding this simple equation that can muddy the waters.

Now take this into account. What is the culture of your current living situation? Do your family members actively exercise? Is it relatively normal for you to eat out a few times a week but still choose the healthiest options on the menu? Do you work so much that finding the time to go to the gym or even for a walk seems impossible? Have you established a culture that would make it really difficult to ensure a successful change? Change is hard, but culture hurts!

When looking at culture from a campus perspective, this is also vital. From the onset of hiring a new success coach or faculty member, are we ensuring that this person is receptive to the college or university culture we are constructing? This also needs to be paired with a little (really – a lot) of self-reflection. Does our student success team feel like they have a voice? Do success coaches and faculty members feel ownership of our campus and their position? Are they being heard? This is where the “hurt” can really gain momentum. Change is great, tough, imperative and exciting.  Yet if we have not developed a campus culture that is strong enough to withstand the “hard” part of any change, inevitably we hurt student success and retention.

The tone of any campus culture starts with the institution’s administration. While it’s great when a simple equation works, higher education can be one big gray area. With this in mind, we can avoid the “hurt” if we establish a culture that can move through the “hard” part of any change. That is when we are sure to have a pathway to success.

Now I’m worried about the DRAIN, not the DRIP

Now I’m worried about the DRAIN, not the DRIP

References to “data rich, information poor” (DRIP) syndrome are ubiquitous; a quick Google search returns articles addressing DRIP in numerous disciplines including education, health care, and water quality management. Organizations suffering from DRIP find themselves awash in data—quantifiable facts and statistics—but lacking information—knowledge obtained through analysis of these data.

Universities and colleges are avoiding DRIP by employing data management procedures that result in consumable, aggregated information. These activities may be the responsibility of an internal office, contracted to an external group, or, as I have found useful, assigned to a mix of both internal and external data professionals.

Following the distillation of relevant information through data analytics, institutions must avoid the next hurdle: “data rich, abundant information, non-action” (DRAIN) syndrome. DRAIN occurs when information lies dormant. This syndrome may be the result of a lack of institutional resources to take on a new project, the inability to navigate institutional silos to prompt action, or poor cross-divisional communication channels for sharing information.

A signal that DRAIN is present is the utterance of the phrase “OK, so what?” or “Interesting” after a quick scan of a report. For example, insights about the success factors for student sub-populations are bundled into reports, shared across departments, viewed with mild curiosity, and then filed away without prompting action.

DRAIN is akin to and sometimes accompanied by “paralysis by analysis.” In this situation, the constant quest for the “perfect data point” stymies any project built on the available information. “If we only knew . . .” has halted action and constricted development of relevant programs many times over.

The best remedy for DRAIN is to prepare a plan to leverage information derived from large data sets. The following steps will assist in developing these types of procedures, and discussion on each step will be addressed in future blog posts on DRAIN.

  1. Determine if the information is actionable
  2. Decide how to employ the information
  3. Pilot programs or outreach
  4. Measure the effectiveness of the program
  5. Revise, expand, or retire the program

 

 

 

About the Author:

Nathan Miller, Ph.D. is the Senior Director for Student Success at Columbia College in Columbia, MO. In this role he is responsible for the design, implementation of student success programming for a diverse and geographically disparate student population.

Small Change….Big Impact

Small Change….Big Impact

After 30 years, a few of those years belaboring the decision, I decided to move from very blonde to very brown hair (my natural color). Now if you are reading this and immediately got annoyed, I promise this post has a valid objective.  Keep reading. While a part of me feels like I have somehow found myself in a witness protection program, what I am most surprised about, is how “hair” has guided a part of my identity, that now feels lost in translation. Well that’s foolish, you say. Hear me out.

The social dynamic of the change in color has been fascinating. I work in a shared space with other companies. While there are often exchanges of “Good Morning” or a quick smirk on the way to our designated spaces, that is really where the communication ends. Now, cue hair change. It is 10:00am. I have been at my desk for a little over 2 hours. The count is currently, seven. Seven people that I have only exchanged “hello smiles” with have now directly addressed me. The comments are ranging in niceties, but so far have been positive. (Who knows what they are actually thinking. I like to think it is all wonderful and gracious mental rhetoric, or even WOW, Stunning!) However, what I do find interesting is the very outward, noticeable change of the color of someone’s hair has created the opportunity or ability for individuals who may not have, engage with me (or about me for that matter). All seven of these professionals, I have never interacted with before. Even more interesting, I still do not know the names of at least four of them. While I am happy to meet new people, and engage (Be mindful, that is really the essential function of my job), I am also aware that they really don’t seem to mind what my name is, or what I do, but rather hair… only hair. I am also not offended by this at all. I am just surprise that anyone outside my immediate teammates even noticed. It is a big change, yet I am relatively new to this particular office setting. I suppose I wasn’t even sure that anyone outside of my particular office mates knew that I existed.

When thinking about a college setting, students often feel this same dynamic. Should Suzy Student decide to change a physical attribute, or simply looks tired, sad, or lost, do we notice? Do we engage or do we pretend to not see her, for fear of getting caught in what may be a loathsome conversation? While Suzy may or may not appreciate the acknowledgment of the difference or change in her demeanor, she will acquire a sense of satisfaction that she is not invisible. This sense of individualism has been a catalyst to many institutional tag lines. “Large School, Individual Attention”. We as educational professionals realize how these interactions are indicative to the ultimate success of college students. Acknowledging life in and out of the classroom is critical to our core competences and vital to retention efforts. However, with so many faces, so many names and often times so many physical differences, it can be almost impossible to catch everyone’s everything.

Now cue the campus advising and success coaching team. When applying for these positions, the job description should be just that. Success Coach A will be expected to know everyone’s everything. This however, is not limited to students, but faculty and staff as well. You will also need to be extremely proficient in putting out the proverbial fire at a moment’s notice. Finally, Good Luck! Small print: Your reports are due every week at 5, but we may ask for these numbers 10 times leading up to Friday, depending on who happens to ask for them.

Maneuvering through this dynamic is what a success coach does best. They thrive in it, actually. Hats off to you. Your work is noticed, acknowledged and you are not invisible, especially if you decide to change your hair color. Now get back to work, you have an unexpected team meeting in 5 minutes and your numbers need to be ready…ohhh and Suzy Student is waiting for you in your office. What does she want? She didn’t tell me, she only wants to talk you.

Plan B, C……and D.

Plan B, C……and D.

Straight lines do not occur in nature. It’s true. So why should we be surprised that our own life paths twist, wrinkle, and veer as they do? For success coaches and students, this means learning how to navigate roadblocks, and sometimes even failures, successfully. What should we tell students who have failed one or more courses, lost their athletic eligibility due to academic standing, or been asked to leave the university?

First, I remind my students that roadblocks are opportunities in disguise. This can seem like facile, Pollyanna-ish advice, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less true. Failures force us to turn a magnifying glass on ourselves. They make us ask questions. Re-assess. Recalibrate. And it is this kind of introspection that gives us the new information that will help us move forward more successfully in the future.

For example, over the holidays I got a call from a student I worked with over two years ago. We had worked together for the entirety of his freshman year, and while he had maintained that progress his sophomore year, during his junior year he slipped back into an academic hole and was eventually asked to leave school. I hadn’t heard from him in a long time, but when I answered the phone, it was the same smiling baritone on the other end. “Mrs. Marion,” he began, “I just wanted to call and say thank you for all you did for me back then.” One of the things he’d had trouble with in the past was organizing his work time. It just took him longer to get the work done than many other students, and with four or five classes at a time in addition to his sport, he often found himself overwhelmed, and once he got overwhelmed, it was hard not to want to throw up his hands and just stop doing anything. He told me over the phone that he had been enrolled in community college for the past two years, taking only one to two courses at a time in order to give each the focus and time he needed to pass the class. And had he been passing, I asked? Straight As and Bs, he reported! Failure had made him really look at his work process. Certainly he also needed a little time to learn how to multi-task, but by recognizing that his pace might just be a little slower than a five-course schedule allows, he was able to set himself up for success at his new school.

When my students fail a course or are asked to leave school, we first look back. What was the issue? Time management? Interest in the material? Difficulty level of material? Too much time in the frat house and not enough in the library? Then we look at options. Knowing what we know now, what is the best way to move forward? Should a student take the class again or not? Perhaps a change in major is on the table. Can a student enroll in community college for a while and then return to a 4-year university? Some students simply need more time to figure out what they truly want from a college education? Every student’s path is different. Straight lines do not occur in nature, and there is more than one way through the forest to the castle.

The Unknown Unknowns

The Unknown Unknowns

Last month I wrote about helping first-year students begin to speak the “language of college,” and in that discussion I was reminded of the many things we take for granted that students must know when they arrive, but don’t. Before doctors can treat an illness, they must first diagnose it, just as before any of us can solve a problem, we must first identify it. At times this can be relatively easy: if a patient walks into a hospital with a broken leg, well, he’s probably going to need a cast. But other problems are not so easy to diagnose.

The most difficult situation, of course, is when we don’t know what we don’t know. These unknown unknowns prevent us from even understanding where to start problem-solving, and this is the reality many of my students find themselves facing when they first walk in my door. So one of the first questions I always ask is, “why do YOU think you have ended up on academic probation or warning?” The answer is usually the most obvious one: “my grades weren’t very good.” I see this response as a portal, an entryway into a discussion that can go quite deep as students explore the real, foundational causes of their academic troubles.

Take Bryce, a student I began working with after his disastrous first semester at school. Bryce had come in as a freshman business major with grades good enough not to have been immediately placed in the Success Coaching program. However, his fall semester grades had been dismal. So when we met, I asked him the question: “why do YOU think your fall grades were what they were?” Bryce punted at first, but eventually he got around to what I already knew from talking to some of his professors. “Well, he finally admitted, “I guess I missed a lot of classes.” That was an understatement. According to my informal investigation, Bryce had simply not gone to pretty much any of his classes. Ever. This, of course, got us closer to the issue, but there were still layers upon layers yet to discover. Why hadn’t he gone to class?

The reasons why students make the decisions they do, of course, are varied and complex. Sometimes they are not even fully aware of why they do what they do, for late adolescence is a veritable cornucopia of unknown unknowns. Thankfully with Bryce, we eventually got to the bottom of it. It turns out that he had decided to major in business because he thought that would be the most effective way to help his family out financially once he graduated, but once he got into business courses, he found them both painfully boring and not at all well-suited to his skill set and strengths. The fact that he hated the classes caused him to lose motivation, and in the vacuum left behind crept in the fear and the shameful thought, “what if I just can’t hack it even if I wanted to?” So he didn’t go to class. He couldn’t go. And once he had missed enough class, the reality of his failure made finding a way out seem impossible.

None of this, of course, Bryce realized consciously while it was happening. He was too consumed by bigger, scarier questions: “If not this, then what? If not the future I planned, then what kind of future will take its place, especially if I’m not cut out for college?” But once we got to the root of it, once we diagnosed the problem, we were in a position to start fixing it. Soon we were having discussions about what Bryce really liked to do. What was he good at? What interested him? It turns out he had never really considered the idea that he could match his skills and passions with a college major. By the next week, Bryce had changed his major, and seemed to waltz into my office like a great weight had been taken off of him. He liked his new courses (except for the prerequisite math class that I reminded him everyone was suffering through just as he was), and even felt like he could contribute in class. Did he still have a pretty big mountain to climb given his first semester grades? Yep. But now Bryce felt set up for success instead of failure. And better than that, he had started to learn to be self-reflective when confronted with a problem.

It is skills like these- the ability to diagnose your own problems and even start to recognize patterns of behavior- that will be essential to a student’s success during and far beyond their college days. As success coaches, our primary job is to help students’ graduate, but if we can help them cultivate the skills that will last them a lifetime…it’s not a bad day at the office.

Relationship Retention

Relationship Retention

Okay, perhaps this is my Andy Rooney moment (and perhaps that reference alone dates me), but it seems like these days everyone is falling head over heels for Big Data. Algorithms will help us all lose weight and find a mate! We count on apps to help us walk more and sleep better! And when we talk about college retention, we flock right to the numbers and conclude that we think we know everything that we need to know. Not that data isn’t very powerful, in fact, it can assist in letting us know how to direct our retention efforts most effectively.  However, if our teams don’t have the appropriate training, it can also mask the more complex, more nuanced, dare I say more human factors that can make the difference between a student graduating college and dropping or failing out.

Today I talked to a fellow success coach, and she reminded me just how relationships- that bonding between a student and the peers, professors, mentors, and coaches he or she finds in his or her college environment- can influence retention. Most of the time, it turns out, relationships are the whole ball of wax. Sure, there are students who cannot academically swim in college waters, but these students number far fewer than those who do not graduate for other reasons. For example, the success coach with whom I spoke today told me of a football player named Oscar, she had been working with since his freshman year. That year, he had been a star prospect but had gotten injured in the second game of the season. He was red-shirted and could start anew the next year, but for the rest of that year he found himself at sea- stripped of the structure of an athlete’s life as well as the meaning and satisfaction he found in doing something he loved. Add to that the fact that he was homesick and you can see how, amidst such circumstances, many students like Oscar would go home. Fortunately, he had his success coach to help him get through the year. Bring his grades up. Begin to see himself as more than just a football player.

At the beginning of his sophomore year, Oscar’s grades were good enough to get him off of academic warning, so he no longer needed to regularly report to a success coach. He was healthy and back on the team, and everything looked like it was coming right around…until the third football game of the season, when Oscar was injured again. The next morning, his first call was to his success coach.

Success coaches aren’t the only people who can mentor students and help them stay in school when so many factors seem to be pulling them farther away. But Oscar’s story is a reminder that retention is all about relationships. When students feel like they belong somewhere- when they encounter people on a daily basis who really see them- when they know that at least one person in this brave new world is always in their corner- they are more likely to endure the difficulties and disappointments that can accompany any great endeavor.