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With hundreds of students often assigned to one adviser, many colleges are looking at different ways to provide effective counseling to increase student success.

In Indiana, one answer seems to be coaching students from afar. Ivy Tech Community College, the statewide two-year system, is expanding its use of InsideTrack, a private company that provides coaches to colleges via email, phone or text messaging.

"We were really pleased with how the first year of the partnership went," said Rachel Boon, assistant vice president for student success at Ivy Tech. "We saw improvement not only in student outcomes and students who were retained but also in our internal communications."

In 2014 -- the first year of the coaching program at Ivy Tech -- retention of students in Indiana's 21st Century Community Scholars program increased 8.8 percentage points, from 36.9 to 45.7 percent. The scholarship program is for first-generation, low-income minority students who receive merit-based financial aid. So far, roughly 2,500 students have received coaching through the scholarship.

In its collaboration with the coaching company, Ivy Tech has mostly focused on underserved student populations. The colleges have been spreading the service gradually to close the achievement gap with black students. This fall, they're planning to add 1,700 more students by expanding to include all black students who are first-time enrollees.

"Every degree-seeking student has an adviser from point of entry to graduation, so this isn't an advising replacement," Boon said. "It's a coaching add-on to help drive the students to more effectively engage with their advisers."

Within the statewide system, every adviser is assigned an average of 600 students, Boon said.

"It doesn't alleviate the load, but coached students come into an advising meeting much more prepared for the meeting," she said.

The state system spends about $1 million for the service, although they expect a return on investing in improved student retention through additional tuition dollars and state performance funds, Boon said.

InsideTrack and other distance-coaching services are less controversial today than they were 10 years ago, when the company first began. Initially, there was criticism that colleges should be the ones providing the coaching.

A 2013 study on InsideTrack found that during the first year of coaching, students were five percentage points more likely to persist in college. The same study, which was released by the American Educational Research Association and conducted by Stanford University researchers, found the effects of coaching didn't disappear. Coached students were three to four percentage points more likely to persist after 18 months and 24 months, respectively.

In Montana, about five colleges and universities that are part of RevUp Montana -- a consortium of institutions focused on reducing the skills gap in manufacturing and energy sectors -- also are expanding their use of InsideTrack. This fall, another 500 students will join the 1,500 students who already receive the specialized coaching service.

The program's retention gains range from 4.9 percent to 17.2 percent for coached students, said Matt Springer, director of the Montana RevUp Consortium.

Ivy Tech also has been working with InsideTrack to improve the coaching model colleges use with their own advising, for example, improving how advisers approach one-on-one meetings with students.

"We're using their core approaches and using it a staff development framework to help existing staff to further serve students," Boon said. "That's been really phenomenal for our staff, and we hope we can serve even more of our students and part-time population."

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