It helps to have a ‘success coach’

When Virginia Hughes earned an associate degree at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, she invited her “success coach”  to the ceremony, writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report.  Laura Harill, a retired hospital administrator, helped the first-generation college student fill out forms, apply for financial aid and choose courses.

The privately funded tnAchieves—or “Tennessee Achieves”— recruits volunteers to help students enroll in college and persist.

Coaching appears to lower college dropout rates.

 “If you’re low-income, if you’re first-generation, if no one in your neighborhood has ever gone to college, it can be very scary,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, executive director of tnAchieves. Students “might have questions we all take for granted, such as, what is a semester? What does that word mean? And just when you think you’re finished, it’s, oh, no, we still need this filled out. It all becomes very arduous and frustrating for the students.”

Personalized coaching doesn’t have to be face to face. College students who were coached by phone, email, and text messages were 15 percent more likely to stay in school, a Stanford study found.

At Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala., 87 percent of  students coached in the fall enroll in the spring, about eight percentage points higher than the rate for uncoached students.

In Tennessee, 75 percent of students coached by tnAchieves make it to their second year of college, compared to the state average of 59 percent. Twenty-six percent get associate’s degrees within three years, compared to 11 percent for other Tennessee

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