“Executive-style coaching is making its way onto campuses across the country as schools struggle to keep students from dropping out. Only 58 percent of full-time freshmen enrolled at four-year institutions in 2004 managed to graduate by 2010, up one percentage point from the year before, according to the latest available data from the Department of Education.” That’s a quote from a recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek about how to be proactive in intervening with students who are at risk.  There is a lot of attention paid to early alert systems, especially for first year students, which is fine but with the right data management, we can know who is at risk before they even arrive at campus.

In the Bloomberg story,we hear about Selene Mendez who enrolled at California State University’s Monterey Bay campus in 2010. She’d moved to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 7 and her father was a migrant farmworker. Her high school guidance counselor seemed to think she’d follow in the footsteps of her older sister and brother, who had dropped out of college in their freshman years. “She told me I wasn’t college material,” Mendez says. “It got me angry.”

Determined to prove the counselor wrong, Mendez participated in a program that helps freshmen stay focused on their studies. Once a week throughout her first year at Monterey, she spoke with a coach who gave her tips on managing her time as she balanced schoolwork with two part-time jobs and a long commute. “I was excited that there was someone who actually took the time to help me out and make sure I succeed,” says Mendez, 19, now a sophomore.

In our work with colleges and universities, we stress the importance of creating an integrated network of student support services that provide timely and effective interventions for students who are most at risk.  We know that those who are the first in their family to go to college are in that group. The same is true for those with lower academic scores and those of lower socio-economic status.  The interventions may not be complicated or expensive.  If you are the first one in your family to attend college, you may not know how to navigate the system or how to take advantage of the resources that exist to help.

The Bloomberg article notes that coaching has helped Monterey Bay dramatically improve its retention rate according to Provost Kathy Cruz-Uribe. In 2011 78 percent of freshmen returned to school as sophomores, up from 65 percent in 2006-07, the year before the school added its coaching program.

How could a coaching for freshmen program help your retention rates?  What would have to happen for it to become a reality on your campus?

Al Blixt, Managing Partner
New Campus Dynamics