It takes a team to graduate post-traditional students Brenau graduate a testament to data plus coaching model

Donning a cap and gown at graduation is no small feat for post-traditional students, especially when life’s curveballs often stand in the way of degree completion. In fact, nearly half of students who pursue a college education leave before earning a degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet it’s possible to hit those curveballs out of the park and make graduation a reality with a winning strategy like the one employed by Brenau University using a data plus coaching model delivered by its partner, Helix Education. As the saying goes, it takes a village. In the case of Brenau graduate Turrah Benton, these words could not ring more true.

Although it was Benton’s tenacity and dedication that ultimately earned her an education specialist degree, she acknowledges that it was, in fact, a team effort. She couldn’t have done it without her personal support system, as well as her enrollment and success coaches who kept her on track.

The intervention and engagement of these coaches prescribed at Brenau University were powered by Helix Retain, a proprietary Retention CRM that leverages enrollment, academic, and behavioral data to inform and automate its personalized student engagement plans. Benton met these coaches in person for the first time at graduation, an emotional reunion they all celebrated.

Post-traditional students against full count
Like so many post-traditional students today, Benton juggled family, work, and life commitments, all while studying for her advanced degree. A full-time fourth-grade teacher and a 21-year veteran of the school system, Benton is also a mother of three and a grandmother of three with one more grandchild on the way. To say her life is busy is an understatement.

When Benton started her program, she was also new to her fourth-grade position and learning new fourth-grade standards. Adjusting to this role added another level of stress. The next year Benton’s personal life took a turn for the worse. “My mother-in-law’s breast cancer came back, and I needed to take care of her. After she got home, I spent five days in the hospital myself, eventually having gallbladder surgery—all while trying to keep up with my education,” she recalls.

Benton’s success coach, Melanie Grinnell-Corcoran, helped her navigate the challenges she continued to face. Grinnell-Corcoran utilized important data insights, gleaned from Benton’s enrollment,academic, and behavioral data that were collected during the enrollment process and throughout Benton’s studies. With these data at her fingertips, Grinnell-Corcoran was able to create and automate personalized outreach plans, enabling her to proactively reach out and provide meaningful support. Grinnell-Corcoran followed up regularly, monitoring Benton’s academic progress and providing motivation to continue during difficult times.

“Even when life got so busy, Melanie didn’t lose touch. She checked in on me with constant calls, messages, and emails,” says Benton. “When Turrah would get distracted by the noise, she was willing to listen and refocus. We had some really honest conversations and she was very open to doing what she needed to do,” says Grinnell-Corcoran.

Grinnell-Corcoran’s role helped build Benton’s confidence. “Every time I wanted to stop, when my life started to get really bad, Melanie would get on the phone with me. Sometimes our calls would last an hour. She’d motivate me to believe I could do this. I couldn’t have done it without her,” says Benton.

Winning play
Open, honest, and regular communication was the foundation for the relationship Benton built with her success coach. “I always tell my own students that I can’t help you if I don’t know what you are thinking, and I took my own advice to heart. I was very straightforward with my success coach,” says Benton.

“Turrah was transparent with me, which was really important for us to work together,” says Grinnell-Corcoran. “It allowed me to be a positive influence.Turrah has the tenacity to never give up. She had a lot of things going on that could have been big obstacles to keep her from moving forward. We worked together closely to keep her focused and on track for success in spite of everything else that was going on around her. She has achieved something remarkable.”

Though her run wasn’t without its challenges, in the end, Turrah says it was all worth it. “All things are possible. Do not give up and have a strong support system that is going to lift you up,” she says with gratitude and pride.

As Benton received her diploma on graduation day, she may have crossed the stage alone, but she was lifted up by her support system just as she had been for the years leading up to that moment.



© This article was reprinted from Recruitment and Retention Newsletter with permission by The National Center for Student Life, A Division of Magna Publications, Inc.

Sarah Horn

As the VP of Retention at Helix Education, Sarah brings unique insight into student retention from more than a decade of experience in higher education, nearly all in operations. She has designed, scaled and managed a success coaching program for an online Associate's Degree, and has a tremendous amount of experience aligning and implementing relevant, practical retention strategies that drive results. Previously, she worked for Inside Track as Campus Director, implementing large-scale partnership. Sarah is a graduate of The University of Rochester and earned her Master's degree at John F. Kennedy University.