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Student Coaching Improves College Retention and Graduation Rates

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Although enrollments have been rising at both two- and four-year colleges, college graduation rates remain stagnant. More students are starting college and not finishing, raising the question of “What improvements can be made?”

A new study released on March 10, 2011 offers one suggestion: Stanford University researchers found that college students who received executive-style “coaching” during their undergraduate years were more likely to remain in college and graduate than those who did not.

Students that Receive Mentoring More Likely to Stay in College

Dr. Eric Bettinger of the Stanford University School of Education and Stanford doctoral student Rachel Baker reviewed the academic records of more than 13,500 undergraduates at eight colleges and universities during the 2003-2004 school year and again in 2007-2008. They calculated an impressive 10 to 15% increase in retention rates among the students that had received coaching and mentoring. Student outcomes were measured using data provided by InsideTrack, a national student coaching company.

Other student coaching organizations exist and some colleges even offer their own in-house mentoring services, but InsideTrack coaches are required to undergo a rigorous training and certification process. The coaches participate in an extensive coaching and campus training program and must pass a certification exam before they are eligible to work with students. Throughout their tenure, coaches receive ongoing training through additional professional certification levels.

Positive Impact of Student Coaching Evident Regardless of Other Factors

The colleges in the study, The Effects of Student Coaching in College: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Mentoring, are not named, but Bettinger and Baker say they include public, private and for-profit institutions. The researchers also found that the impact of coaching was evident regardless of such factors as age, SAT or ACT score, and grant and merit scholarship eligibility. The students studied were more likely than all college students to be older than traditional college age, although there were some traditional-age participants as well, reports Inside Higher Ed.

A press release issued by the Stanford School of Education explains that 8,000 of the students received one-on-one coaching and 5,500 did not, following a randomization process. The universities participating in the study provided data on student persistence after 6, 12, 18 and 24 months. Degree completion data was also provided for a subsample of students in the earlier sample year.

Among the study’s findings:

  • After 6 months, coached students were 5.2 percentage points more likely to be enrolled than were other students—a 9% gain in retention.
  • The impact was still evident after a full year, with 48.8% of coached students and 43.5% of other students still enrolled.
  • The impact of coaching shrinks slightly but holds 18 months and 24 months after the start of coaching, which lasts only a year. This data is significant because some other intervention strategies to encourage student retention are effective while in place but lose their impact after the intervention stops.
  • The impact of coaching was greater on male students than on female students. After six months, the impact of coaching added 2.5 percentage points to female students’ retention rates and 6.1 percentage points to the rates for men.

Study’s Validity Questioned in the New York Times

When a New York Times blog about the study raised questions of the accuracy of its findings, considering that data was provided by InsideTrack, a company that sells coaching services, Dr. Bettinger himself responded to readers’ comments.

“The universities themselves determined who was eligible for the service. Students did not opt into the program. Students only learned that the university had selected them for the service when the coach began attempting to make contact. The randomization assures internal validity of the estimated effects. The real question is whether the results generalize to other populations. The fact that we find similar effects across the various campuses and cohorts would suggest that there is external validity,” he wrote on March 10.

Dr. Bettinger also explained that he and his co-researcher “surprised” InsideTrack with their data request by specifying which years of data they were to receive. Unless the company had modified every year of their data, it gave some assurance that they did not modify the data.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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