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Having the same academic coach throughout a student’s time on campus made a difference in outcomes.

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Findings from a recent study on the role of technology-enabled academic success coaching to close equity gaps at community colleges validate the benefits of both providing such coaching and ensuring that coaches stay with their assigned students.

The study’s story: Over three years, 11 North Carolina Community College system institutions used a Watermark student success and engagement platform—which flags at-risk students, enables easy communication between student and success coach, provides an early-alert system when problems may exist, and includes predictive analytics—along with dedicated success coaches for four terms.

Proactive outreach was established between coaches and their assigned students, who were all new and minority men. The Minority Male Success Initiative recognizes that students of color experience racism, isolation and feeling out of place on campuses and aimed to help institutions take an active role in ensuring college completion for this vulnerable student population.

“Our goal is to find practices, and hopefully this is one, where I think at the end we can say this is an effective way to catch students before problems arise, assist students to overcome those challenges and then, ultimately, as a result of doing so, more students are successful,” says John J. Evans, associate director of student life for N.C. Community Colleges. “Retention goes up, graduation rates go up, all those negative academic metrics decrease and we make improvements to students moving forward.”

Improved overall outcomes: The alignment of people, process and technology did, indeed, help this vulnerable student population to succeed. Overall retention increased by more than 22 percent with the success coaching. Spring-to-fall-semester persistence for the students with coaches increased by 19 percent.

Consistent coaching, higher impact: Having the same academic coach throughout a student’s time on campus made a difference in outcomes. Students who had a coach who changed experienced an increase in completion by 2.4 percent. Full-time students who had the same coach, meanwhile, were 10 percent more likely to complete.

For part-time students, the consistent coaching relationship had a big impact on persistence, with 10 percent experiencing two-term persistence and 9 percent experiencing three-term persistence; persistence for part-time students who had a change in coaches actually decreased.

In other words, it’s not just about the coaching but about the coaching relationship. As Jamal Pitt, a success coach at Nash Community College, noted in an announcement about the study, “It falls on the shoulders of educators to ensure student success is within reach. Once they walk through the door, I tell them that my job is to help them cross the stage through whatever means necessary.”

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