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To create a sustainable student success coaching model within a college or university, InsideTrack offers practical advice and resources to campus leaders.

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Success coaching is a growing practice in higher education to help connect learners to resources, teach essential academic habits, provide support for students on academic probation, reach nontraditional learners and onboard first-year students.

A 2023 survey from Tyton Partners found 58 percent of colleges and universities offer student success coaching to students.

A recent report from nonprofit InsideTrack provides guidance and recommendations for institutions looking to establish or boost coaching services on campus for student retention and persistence.

What’s the need: In coaching sessions, students receive one-on-one support with whatever their academic or personal needs may be, with the goal of helping them remain in college and make timely progress toward their degree or credential.

One of the benefits of coaching is it doesn’t require many resources to launch or implement but has demonstrated effects on student behavior.

However, offering student success coaching at scale requires institution-wide transformation, according to InsideTrack’s report, “but, hindered by a complex web of financial, operational and political challenges, many institutions do not have the resources to carry out this necessarily ambitious undertaking.”

These limitations push institutions to turn to outside nonprofit and for-profit organizations who can boost capacity in specific services, but the outcomes of this work can be temporary, lasting only the length of the contract.

“The pathway to student success transformation is instead built on finding innovative ways to invest in existing staff and structures, ultimately creating sustainable internal capacity,” according to the report.

InsideTrack, in addition to providing coaching and support to institutions externally, offers coaching development and training programs to in-house teams.

Building supports: To improve in-house coaching, institutional officials should consider these four actions:

  • Assess institutional needs and readiness. Colleges should identify who their learners are and the challenges they’re facing. Surveys and focus groups can help bridge knowledge gaps between student and institutional leaders. Internal review should also focus on staff capabilities and where to invest their own resources.
  • Choose an evidence-based methodology. Higher ed institutions are often slow-moving when it comes to system-wide change, so finding a framework that aligns with student and personnel needs is critical. Training, for example, should not be a two-day workshop but immersive and continuous. Coaching is a process that should be relational instead of transactional to center on the student experience and empower learners to meet their goals. Framework should help establish staff buy-in through highlighting career development opportunities, fully explaining the changes and why they’re necessary, creating opportunities to ask question ,and through top-down engagement (such as leaders taking part in trainings).
  • Nurture internal culture to sustain impact. Fostering continued impact from practitioners also requires reinforcement of best practices through observation and feedback. Leaders can empower coaches to serve as trainers, creating continual change, or invest in continuous learning through communities of practice to build a culture of change.
  • Secure sustainable funding sources. One of the most common challenges in higher education innovation is identifying sustainable partnerships to ensure continued energy and funding for the initiative. Leaders should consider a mix of private and public sources, including the college’s operating budget, employer partnerships, grants and philanthropic partnerships. Funders are most likely to invest in programs with proven outcomes and a return on investment, so leaders should consider ways they can track effectiveness to make a compelling case.

The report also includes three resources for institutions, including a planning guide, change management checklist and funding options.

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