Success coaching for a personalized student advising experience

The success coach approach, which involves guiding and supporting a student from enrollment to graduation, provides personalized attention, at scale, needed to help students complete their educational goals.

As a result of the pandemic, higher education institutions had to shift from in-person classes to virtual education, introducing unforeseen challenges to academic advising in 2020. Advisors and mentors support and guide students on their higher education journey. Without them, students often fall behind, and outside factors influence their decisions to eventually drop out. It comes as no surprise that COVID-19 and remote learning made it difficult for students to stay engaged. In fact, a recent Census survey revealed that 16 million Americans canceled their higher education plans due to COVID-19.

Alexander Leader, Aviso Retention
Alexander Leader, Aviso Retention

To ensure success among students, both current and prospective, there must be a return to a more personalized approach to retain and engage students. Success coaching provides students with a personalized advising experience, offering guidance and support throughout the student’s time at the institution. As we look ahead to the remainder of 2021, colleges and universities will need to shift their focus from enrollment to retaining students. To successfully achieve this, higher education institutions must leverage success coaching concepts, providing students the personalized attention, at scale, needed to complete their educational goals.

What is success coaching?

Success coaching is an advising approach that is customized to the needs and goals of each individual student, providing support and guidance for both academic and non-academic needs. Focusing on a holistic and proactive approach to advising, success coaching supports not just the student, but instead the person and their unique situation. Outside forces often derail a student, causing them to fall behind or to become detached from their educational journey. Hurdles such as a lack of time management skills, academic preparation, lack of value, or uncertainty of the process and financial challenges need solutions. Success coaching provides the student a single point of contact that can connect them with both institutional and community resources, such as financial aid services, housing, food pantry, transportation, child care, technology and broadband access. A success coach is responsible for supplying their students with the guidance, support and direction needed to be successful throughout their educational journey.

While academic advisors and success coaches have similar roles and qualities, there are a few distinctions that set these roles apart from one another. Traditional academic advisors tend to have a specialized focus on the educational aspect of the student. Advisors are responsible for enrollment assistance, class selection and questions pertaining to courses or their educational requirements. Success coaching is a facet of advising, intended to work synonymously with academic advisors and all other entities of a higher education institution.

For student success coaching to be effective and impactful, higher education institutions must hire the right people. Historically success coaches fall into one of two overarching groups; previous or retired educators, or those from student affairs, HR professionals, or social workers. Regardless of background, the best success coaches have two things in common; they have experience building quality one-on-one relationships that focus on need and they can navigate the institution and community to make connections for the student that the student wouldn’t necessarily make on their own. 

How can success coaching benefit students?

Student success coaches have been proven to greatly benefit both higher education institutions and their students. In fact, my company’s First in the World research program analyzed the effects of success coaching over the span of five years, and showed that students who were assigned a success coach were 4% more likely to stay enrolled for two academic years. Additionally, the research showed that success coaching can greatly impact minority and diverse student demographics. For example, black students assigned to a coach are 8% more likely to remain enrolled for a year and 18% more likely to stay enrolled for two academic years. In an industry where a 2% change is big news, the benefits of success coaching are immediately apparent.

Student success coaching is beneficial to every party involved in the process; there is a real ROI for the institution in having successful, engaged and supported students. State and national subsidy models are based on creating successful outcomes. Most importantly, students receiving success coaching are equipped with information, support, guidance and a mentor that is with them every step of the way towards degree completion, ensuring that they cross the educational finish line.

While 2020 did bring with it numerous obstacles for students and the institutions which they attend, I foresee a very bright 2021. Higher education has always risen to a challenge, that’s who we are. And it’s happening again. Molding and adapting how we engage students, while focusing on each student’s unique challenges, ensure a helping hand when students need it most. 2020 was a shock to our system. It forced us to rethink our approach, go beyond the classroom to offer support, and to focus on the entire person, not just the student.

 Alexander Leader is the founder and CEO of Aviso Retention, an AI student success software and equity solution that helps underserved colleges and universities keep at-risk students engaged, increase retention, and optimize the chances of degree and certificate completion.

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