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Student Advising Models and Guided Pathways

Student Advising Models and Guided Pathways

“Guided Pathways” is the buzz phrase in higher ed these days.  Data is showing how a guided pathway’s solution impacts student success and graduation rates, especially at community colleges.  A study by Davis Jenkins and Sung-Woo Cho that was released in 2012 showed more than half of students who entered a program in their first year earned a credential or transferred within 5 years.  For students who did not enter a program until their 3rd year, the success rate was about 20%.

The concept of guided pathways makes a lot of sense.  It’s pretty amazing how often a student will register for a class that does not advance them closer to their academic goals, thus using up precious financial aid.  That being said, it’s a lot of work for an institution to take on.  In this case, it literally takes the entire village.

A guided pathway solution can still allow for customization of course schedules by way of academic plans with default choices.  There are several other benefits in shifting specific programs to a guided pathways route, including:

  • An increase in completion rates through enhanced structure and support for students
  • Optimization of the use of financial aid
  • Defining and assessing learning outcomes for entire programs
  • Faculty working together to create instructional program coherence
  • Students seeing the big picture of their program and how individual components lead to achieving their goals

For this model to be successful, there must be a shift in the overall student support network.  The American Association of Community Colleges states that the guided pathways redesign model should be built on three design principles:

  • Institutions must pay attention to the entire student experience, not just a segment of it
  • This is not an isolated solution in a long list of reforms, rather an opportunity to unify a variety of reform elements
  • Redesign process starts with the end-goal in mind (ie. employment) and then works backward to map out a program

My intention here is to focus on the student service component of the entire ecosystem.  From a student advising perspective, a guided pathways approach elevates the precision needed by student support services.  It’s critical that student services evolve with the guided pathways model.  Below are some key ingredients to consider:

  • Ability to closely monitor student academic plans
  • Automatic alerts that are triggered the minute a student falls off plan
  • Advisors and faculty can intervene early as at-risk indicators identify students who could potentially fail critical courses
  • Advisors and faculty work closely together to monitor and support student progress
  • Students can monitor their progress towards achieving their academic goals

Aviso is a turnkey solution that provides academic planning to support guided pathways, coupled with predictive analytics and an engagement platform that easily places a student’s challenges and achievements right in front of student support staff.  Rather than a reactive and transactional student environment, the intention is for advisors and faculty to focus on measuring outcomes and continuing to fine tune the guided pathways ecosystem.  If you aren’t doing this already, consider conducting a pilot to observe the impact yourself.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

The Retention Dilemma with Graduate Programs

The Retention Dilemma with Graduate Programs

When you think about student attrition, is it ever in the context of graduate school?

Probably not, but you should.  Undergrad retention rates hover around 50% and the same goes for masters and doctoral students.

Colleges and Universities are more focused on their undergraduate attrition than what is happening in their graduate programs.   I had the fortunate circumstance of attending the Annual Meeting for the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools in early March (which, by the way, is a fantastic group of people) where I had conversations with several Deans of graduate programs spread from Maryland to Texas.  The conversations were overwhelmingly similar.  Each one sharing they would love to have a retention solution similar to what their undegraduate counterpart currently has, but they don’t have the student numbers in their grad program to justify the cost.

Let’s pause and think about this for a minute.  One particular institution comes to mind that has 20,000 undergrads and 4,000 graduate students.  If this institution is experiencing an overall attrition rate of 20% annually for both programs, then they are looking at losing 4000 undergrad and 800 graduate students.  Seems to make sense to focus on the larger number, but losing 800 graduate students results in a $7.2m loss in tuition revenue for this particular institution.

Through my discussions, the predominant reasons I am hearing their institutions are not investing in a retention solution are:

  • Less Return on Investment when compared to undergrad
  • An assumption that students who leave cannot handle the academic rigor, so we should allow for this natural attrition
  • An assumption that some students leave because they’ve chosen a different career direction, which usually involves gainful full time employment

Let’s break these down…

Less Return on Investment when compared to undergrad

It’s hard to find numbers on loss in tuition revenue for graduate programs.  An Educational Policy Institute report shows a loss in tuition revenue for undergrad at $16.5B, so I’m guessing if graduate programs are experiencing a 50% attrition rate the financial loss there is still a staggering number.  The institution mentioned above would see an increase in tuition revenue of $0.5M with a 7% increase in retention.  An affordable solution would provide very strong return on investment.

An assumption that students who leave cannot handle the academic rigor, so we should allow for this natural attrition

A strong admissions department should be filtering out students who will struggle.  Of course, the expectation is rarely 100% retention and certainly a small population of students may struggle academically.  Most students admitted to graduate programs can meet and exceed the academic requirements, but life gets in the way.  When priorities shift and life intervenes, the performance drops.  It’s easy to point the finger at performance, but is that the true reason a student leaves their graduate program?  Identify these dips in performance quickly and then engage to uncover the real issue.

An assumption that some students leave because they’ve chosen a different career direction, which usually involves gainful employment

Students who drop of out graduate school are likely pulled away by life situations.  Families, health, career, finances, debt and self-confidence are key factors.  The latter factor there, self-confidence, is important to pay attention to.  In Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, she talks about the high number of people admitted to prestigious academic programs who experience imposter syndrome, which is basically a consistent feeling that they must have fooled the admissions folks to gain acceptance into their program.  She experienced the same thing herself as a grad student at Princeton, now she’s a best-selling author doing ground-breaking research in how people judge and influence each other.  My point here is that these are obstacles that graduate students can overcome.

There is an answer…  a practical and affordable retention solution can support the right students to persist to graduation.  A system that bolsters the work our professional and faculty advisors are doing to support students.  Being able to find and engage students who are at-risk is advantageous, but so is having a system that automatically recognizes key accomplishments and benchmarks.  The return on investing in a solution can add significant tuition revenue.  More important, it’s difficult to put a monetary value on the impact to the university and future of the student, as well.

I have to share that this topic is close to my heart.  I almost left graduate school myself.  I realized early on in my clinical psychology program that I was not interested in being a therapist.  Furthermore, I was presented with a fantastic job offer that would have been hard to refuse.  A faculty mentor showed me the value of finishing my program.  Looking back, I made exactly the right decision.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

Is Technology replacing Advising?

Is Technology replacing Advising?

According to MarketWatch, by 2035 there will be 2.7bn students worldwide and in order to meet this demand we would need to build two universities per day over the next 20 years.  Couple this growth with tightening budgets in higher education and cuts have to occur somewhere.  Are you currently experiencing this in student services on your campus?

MarketWatch also indicates that EdTech will be a $252bn industry by 2020.  We can register students without a human interaction.  Students can get career or academic advice through search engines and phone apps.  It’s the Big Bang of EdTech, but if technology slowly replaces advising our retention crisis will only deepen.

Advising through technology with no human contact is largely transactional.  The truth is that many students would still achieve their academic goals with this type of advising.  However, we all know students vary by college and university and a majority of them require an interpersonal connection.

On the surface, computers are unable to replace the value of human interaction.

When you look a little bit deeper, we see that individuals seek out advising and student support roles because they care about people and this is their opportunity to shape the lives of others.

At the core, we have students who are facing new and unique challenges every day and require support from an actual person who is trained to drive their college experience.

The trick is providing technology that allows front-line student support to do their job effectively and efficiently.  Don’t replace technology with advising, rather provide smarter tools so advisors can do what they love.  The question becomes not, “Is technology replacing advising,” rather, “Which technology is ideal for my staff to effectively support students?”

If you value that human interaction on the advising front, then work to align a technology solution with campus culture, student success initiatives and the needs of your students.

Select technology that reflects campus culture.  You can purchase a wide range of data analytic products.  Deciding upon a complex solution without a campus culture to match and you could end up with superfluous data.

Align your student success initiatives with a retention solution.  Technology should mirror the student success initiatives you have or want to put into place.

Align technology with the needs of your students.  Institutions serve different types of students and it’s important to ensure the data that you are gathering and utilizing to engage students is most pertinent to your institution.

Student advising can be incredibly rewarding.  Connecting the dots for a student and working to constantly connect their hard work to the value of a degree and their future is necessary.  These conversations can happen through careful strategy and planning.  In other words, retention technology should allow you the time to think about how you will advance your students rather than trying to figure out who actually needs your support.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

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.

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.

The Language of College

The Language of College

“How would you like your change?” the woman at the check-out asked me, but all I heard was, “como você gostaria que sua mudança?”  Which made sense, since the grocery store I happened to be patronizing at the time was in Lisbon, Portugal, but unfortunately for me, I don’t speak Portuguese. This brief encounter (and many like it) in a country where I didn’t speak the language reminded me that the freshmen who will walk into my office in a few weeks and I are not so different. It reminded me that college is a language. And if you don’t speak the language, even the most basic acts can seem like insurmountable obstacles.

So how do we help students become fluent in the language of college? I find that a good place to start is, well, actual language. Acronyms, for example. We can forget that when we say, “you just need to make sure you have filed your FAFSA and go to the FAS office on north campus right between SPAC and the PLEX!” an incoming freshman may hear, “como você gostaria que sua mudança?” (You’ll know by the deer-in-headlights look similar to the one I gave the Portuguese cashier.) That’s why one of the first things I do with new freshmen is go over acronyms, even the most basic, seemingly no-brainer ones. (I learned this when I began working with a student who did not know what a GPA was nor how one was determined.) In addition to learning the names of the “whos” and “whats” on campus, we will often explore the “wheres” together. And it’s amazing what a little familiarity will do. Even if students know where something like the financial aid office or tutoring center is, and even after you assure them that the people working inside are regular humans without claws or fangs or malevolent intent, many won’t feel comfortable going in for the first time on their own. So we take a little field trip, and I introduce them to the people that can help get them the resources they need. Suddenly, what seemed daunting and strange is a gathering of fast friends, and now the student is way more likely to be able to follow up on his or her own. They’re not fluent yet, but they’re starting to speak “conversational college.”

Which is good because they’re gonna need it. They are going to need to engage in conversations of all kinds- with registrars, bursars, tutors, career counselors and, most importantly, professors. And this, once again, can be scary for a new student. (And I get it. I may have managed to eke out an “obrigada,” or “thank you,” to the Portuguese cashier, but I didn’t sing her the national anthem!) Again, a little familiarity is key. Often the issue is that even when students muster up the courage to talk to a professor or administrator, they don’t know what to say. So we role play. If they ask me as the mock professor, “I don’t understand this,” I encourage them to get specific. What exactly don’t they understand? If they have questions about a financial aid form, we break it down until they understand exactly what they need. We talk it out until they are comfortable asking the questions they need to ask, and that’s one more step toward fluency.

As with learning any language, it’s all about practice. And we are much more likelier to practice something once we see we are making some headway. That’s my job. To help a new student get to that first breakthrough where he or she realizes…hey — now I know how to ask for my change!

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.

Good Cop, Bad Cop in Student Support

Good Cop, Bad Cop in Student Support

There are situations in life that require us to make carefully considered decisions about tactics. Whether you’re dealing with your boss, your child, or the TSA agent who seems to have a real problem with the amount of shampoo you’ve chosen to bring on an airplane, we are daily answering the question (whether consciously or not), “do I more effectively get what  I want if I play good cop…or bad cop?” As a success coach, I know this dilemma all too well, for most of my students need me to be both at different times. Learning how to become a master of the good cop/bad cop routine is an art, and I don’t always get it right. However, for the most part, I am able to make those decisions by synthesizing both the micro and the macro; in other words, I pay attention to both to the specific circumstances of the present moment and larger patterns of behavior.

Griffin is a student of mine who just finished his sophomore year. While most of my students who find themselves in academic trouble are glad to finally shed the burden of trying to pretend like they’ve been on top of it all along, Griffin resisted letting go of the façade. The reasons for his situation were either someone else’s fault or something that he now had totally under his control. Any “bad cop” energy I tried to put forth was met with defensiveness and digging in. There was simply no way he was going to do it any other way than his own, I soon discovered, so I gently opened the door and let good cop in. Would he like a cup of coffee? So sorry we even had to bring him down to the station at all….there are just a few, minor things we need his help with. For one…where was he on the night in question? I let Griffin try doing it his way for awhile, and when we would meet, I let him discover the ways in which that plan was not working as well as he had hoped. I treated it as an intriguing experiment, the way a math teacher might respond to a student who was clearly going about a problem the wrong way. “Oh, what an interesting way to think about doing it! Can you show me step by step how you plan to solve the problem your way?” Then, you slowly watch as the student himself figures out that his way is leading him to the wrong solution. “I’m glad you showed me that. That was a really out-of-the-box way to think about the problem, but I think we now both see that it needs tweaking. Let me show you another way we might approach it…” Manipulation? Only if you truly refuse to consider that the student may indeed prevail doing it the way you see as “wrong.” Perhaps Griffin would be the first student ever to ace a class by never showing up and not turning in any work! In a universe full of infinite possibility, I couldn’t say that it was impossible, right?  And it was perhaps because of this openness on my part that Griffin eventually let me show him other ways to approach the problem.

Tim, however, needed a different strategy. Tim needed a drill sergeant combined with a mom who does not put up with nonsense. Tim needed a bad cop. Tim was one of those students who was always looking for a loophole, a soft spot, a chink in the wall through which he could tunnel his way out. And Tim was pretty good at finding them. He had gotten things past adults all his life- sometimes due to privilege and sometimes due to sheer will- and he came to college believing that a few well-placed excuses combined with an innocent, “aw-shucks” attitude would allow him to coast through university just as he had high school. So, I admit, it must have surprised him when I called him on his b.s. However, much as seems to be the case with your average criminal mastermind on  Law & Order, Tim came to respect me and actually listen to me precisely because I had seen through his act.

Most students need both bad cop and good cop from time to time, as well as a variety of other things. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of my job is figuring out what tactic will get through to the student most effectively. Sometimes I follow my well-trained instincts; sometimes, it still takes a great deal of trial and error to figure it out. But most importantly, I remind myself that one size does not fit all. My best decisions are always made when I put in the time to really get to know the person staring back at me from the other side of my desk. Only then can I most accurately discern when to convince my student that her accomplice has already spilled the beans in the other interrogation room…and when to offer her a cup of coffee. 

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.

The Next Generation – Student Support

The Next Generation – Student Support

It can be difficult to remember exactly where and when you learned something. When a job is new, you are learning something new every day, but once you’ve been at it for awhile, you simply do what you know works without much thought about the process by which that wisdom was gained. Since I have been working as a success coach for more than a few years now, I thought I’d ask one of our first-year coaches, a woman named Ellen who had worked as a staff member at two other colleges prior to joining the team at my university, about her experience this year. What did she learn? What surprised her? What are some of the most crucial take-aways that will help her be an even better coach in year two? Here are some of her thoughts:

The most important theme Ellen kept coming back to again and again was that of variety in…well….variety of forms. Based on her work with mostly freshmen who were on either academic probation or warning, it became incredibly apparent to her the extent to which not all high schools are alike. There is a wide spectrum when it comes to academic rigor, even when you only look at college prep programs from school to school. A student with a 3.0 GPA from one area can be vastly more prepared than a student having graduated with the same GPA from a different school. However, Ellen was also surprised by how many of her students’ primary challenges were not academic at all, and she figured out that in order to address students with vastly different obstacles- from organization to motivation to family issues to mental health problems- she had to come up with as many strategies as there were barriers to a student’s success.

Ellen also learned things that will help her work more effectively with certain kinds of students. For example, she had not fully realized just how much of a student athlete’s time is dedicated to his or her sport, and what incredible organization and time management skills it takes to be both student and athlete at the college level. She also came to some interesting insights regarding international students, namely just how real and difficult culture shock can be to navigate.

Although one of the biggest lessons Ellen learned was there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to working with students, there were some commonalities. On the whole, she said, the challenges her students faced often stemmed from a lack of problem solving skills and support. Many of her freshmen were not used to making decisions for themselves or solving their own problems, and she found she nearly always had to give them a crash course in Problem Solving 101.  She also observed how quickly her students came to trust her and tell her what the problem really was and, for many, this trust was born from her students’ viewing her as a campus mom, a second mom, or the mom they never had. One of the truths Ellen discovered that I, too, find difficult is that, for many of the students who end up walking through our doors, the success coach is the only person in his or her life who supports them and always has their back.

At the end of our conversation, Ellen paused and said, “You know, I’ve worked at colleges before, but even so, I really experienced a learning curve this year.” I asked her what, if anything, was the main take-away. “I love being a success coach,” she said, “and I think if every school did this, we could raise graduation rates nationwide.”

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.

Creating a Success Coaching Program from the Ground Up

Creating a Success Coaching Program from the Ground Up

The other day I had the privilege of meeting with two women who work in the academic support center at our local community college. These women have been wanting to start a success coaching program for some time, believing that, especially on the community college level, where students have an even more diverse range of needs and challenges than at a typical four-year institution, a success coaching program could provide huge benefits to their students. We had a great conversation about how we launched the success coaching program at my university, how it works, and what we’ve learned in the years since its inception. I’d like to share a few of the highlights here.

SELLING THE PROGRAM

As we learned first-hand at my university, the reasons why a school needs or could benefit from a success coaching program are not always immediately apparent to administration, faculty and staff. Often, this is because many people simply don’t know what success coaching programs do. Students already have access to academic advisors, counselors, and tutors, they say. How would this be any different? Wouldn’t success coaches be at best redundant and at worst interlopers stepping on the toes of those who are already doing these jobs? In order to garner support for any nascent success coaching program, it is essential to communicate to faculty and staff that success coaches work as partners with professors, coaches, and counselors, and that the primary job of a success coach is to act as a singular point person who helps students pinpoint and navigate any challenges that might arise, academic or otherwise. Success coaches also act as mentors and role models to students, some of whom have few (if any) others to look to. Sure, some students find mentor/mentee relationships with a particular professor or coach, and those relationships can be incredibly gratifying, but not all students are so lucky.

Perhaps the most persuasive way to get a university on board when starting a success coaching program is simply to share the numbers. Our success coaching program has unequivocally improved retention while vastly reducing the numbers of students who have been dismissed from the university. In fact, the retention rates of students in our success coaching program, who are statistically most at risk of dropping out or being dismissed, are just as good or better than those of the general population. Math! She tells no lies.

HIRING

Just as most organizations thrive or fail on the effectiveness of their human resources, so it is with success coaching programs. Hiring the right people is essential, and over the years we have found a few types of people who generally make the best coaches. Probably the largest percentage of our coaches are retired educators, but that is not the only model that seems to work. We have hired coaches from the business world who have experience mentoring others, former social workers, HR directors, and people who have spent time in student affairs. Regardless of their career origins, all of our best coaches seem to have one thing in common: experience building one-on-one relationships which focus on the needs of others.

GIVING THE PROGRAM A MISSION

Finally, a successful success coaching program must have a clear understanding of the job at hand. We are not professors. We are not counselors. We are sounding boards, detectives, friends and, more than anything, facilitators. We connect students to the resources they need to succeed, for we know that their success helps not just the students themselves but all of us. The more well-educated our workforce and citizenry, the better off we all are, and success coaches know that our primary goal is to help facilitate that success in any way we can.

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.

Tales from the Trenches of a Success Coach

Tales from the Trenches of a Success Coach

Regardless of your line of work, every once in a while it’s nice to talk shop. It just feels good to compare notes, swap stories, celebrate or, at times, commiserate with the other people who truly understand what you do because they do it too. A couple of days ago, my fellow success coaches and I got together for a shop talk session, and the conversation centered around stories of students present and past. So this month I’m going to forgo the larger thesis and just relate a few of these anecdotes. These are snapshots of individual lives- brief glimpses into moments, both large and small, on a few individual students’ paths to a college education.

Aaron is a soccer player who came to college two years ago on a full athletic scholarship. Aaron is good. I mean, really good. So good, in fact, that our soccer coach recruited him as a freshman and basically built the entire team around him. Fall is soccer season, and with the demands of the sport combined with the dual challenges of coursework and adjusting to college life that all freshmen face, Aaron’s grades suffered. He ended the semester with the bare minimum GPA he needed to remain eligible to play. However, it seemed reasonable to assume that in the spring, when he would be practicing but not traveling or playing competitively, he would have the time to focus on his studies and bring his grades up. Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened, and by second semester midterms, Aaron had Fs in five classes. That’s when his coach stepped in and got him a success coach, who immediately went into full triage mode. She got him organized. She kept him accountable, even when that meant walking over to his dorm and physically escorting him to her office when he failed to show up for a meeting. It was a herculean task, but it worked. Aaron got out of the hole and was ready for another fall season. Case closed, right? Lesson learned and the rest is history? Not exactly. Aaron’s sophomore year was a mirror image of his first, and by then his coach had realized something of a common, if counter-intuitive, phenomenon among student athletes.

While one would assume it would be harder to keep one’s grades up when one is so busy with a sport in season, sometimes the exact opposite is true. Sometimes it’s the structure of an on-season that helps a student organize the rest of his or her time effectively. It’s the immediacy of being able to connect how you are doing in school right now to your eligibility to play the sport you love. For Aaron, the loss of that structure and immediacy in the spring was a major drawback. Luckily, with the help of his success coach, he was able to break the pattern this year and has been doing well in class as well as on the field. When I spoke to his success coach, she told me of one particularly wonderful moment. She had gone to a game to see Aaron play, and had, without realizing it, sat next to his mother and grandmother in the stands. They spent most of the game simply sitting side-by-side, until Aaron scored a goal and all three women jumped to their feet and began cheering. After a moment of surprise, Aaron’s mother and grandmother looked over and asked, as if they already knew the answer, “are you the success coach?” When Aaron’s success coach answered in the affirmative, hugs and words of gratitude were shared all around.

Madison is a freshman this year, and her story, while still largely unwritten, has been less inspiring. An extremely bright young woman with excellent test scores and high school grades, Madison, nevertheless, managed to get on academic probation during her fall semester. She started meeting with a success coach at the beginning of this semester, but by midterm she had been dismissed from two of her five classes for lack of attendance. Lack of attendance, it seems, is the name of the game for Madison. She is simply not going to class. When pressed, she has revealed to her coach that there is a set of issues she is dealing with, but so far she has not been willing to talk about what they are. Clearly there are deep and stormy seas churning underneath Madison’s nonchalant exterior, and hopefully she will listen to her coach’s advice and utilize the psychological counseling resources on campus. However, if she doesn’t do something to turn her ship around, she is likely to be asked to leave. Madison’s story reminded all of us success coaches of students we’ve had who just weren’t able to make it. Either their grades were just too low to be turned around, they had underlying family or personal issues that were simply too big to surmount in the time they were here, or some combination of both. Perhaps the unwritten chapters of Madison’s college career will be happier ones. Perhaps the last chapter ends with Madison, beaming from ear to ear, crossing the stage in cap and gown to receive her diploma. In the meantime, we will hope, we will help, we will facilitate…and we will keep our fingers crossed.

Cody is another freshman in his second semester of college, and another student who did not work with a success coach initially but whose fall semester grades put him on academic warning, and so he was given a success coach for spring. (This trend, by the way, is why I strongly believe all freshmen should receive a success coach for their first semester.) Cody is the only child of parents who for a long time believed they would be unable to have children. This does not necessarily account for the amount which they doted on their miracle child, but Cody readily admitted to his coach that his parents basically did everything for him and let him do pretty much whatever he wanted. He certainly is a smart, charming person, but it seems he learned to use his powers of charm and manipulation mainly in order to get out of things or to get other people to do things for him that he really should have done himself. Unfortunately for Cody, his college professors have not been quite as easily charmed, and this paradigm shift in the way of the world seems to have thrown Cody for quite a loop. He’s confident enough to admit he’s gotten away with a lot in the past and smart enough to know that’s not going to work anymore, but he needed someone to help him figure out just how to do things differently. He needed help learning skills like time management, organization, and work ethic, and that’s where his success coach came in. Cody is still not out of the woods, and sometimes his coach describes getting him to do things as “like pulling teeth,” but he is working on it. Little by little, the way we all break old habits and forge new pathways, he is working on it.

Statistics about retention, performance, and graduation rates on college campuses often focus on the abstract- the composite. And yes, composite data is important. But amidst all the data, we must remember that there are trees in this forest! There are as many stories as there are acceptance letters, desks in a classroom, and piles of laundry waiting patiently…for Summer break.

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.