Your students’ academic problems aren’t just academic

Student retention is an issue with high stakes for both the institution and the student. When tackling the issue of student retention, institutions often work from a common misunderstanding: students drop out because the academic load is too difficult. In reality, it’s often much more complicated than that. As noted in the recently released Primer on the College Student Journey, “the paths students follow on their journey toward college completion and their likelihood of success vary tremendously depending on their family background, the kind of college they start at, and the highly varied circumstances that arise along the way.” And indeed, highly varied is becoming the standard descriptor of today’s college students.

A coaching mindset is particularly effective at helping institutions accommodate the diverse needs of their student body and facilitate growth in life and career management.

The makeup of the modern student body is dynamic and multifaceted. Institutions are now serving the approximately 68 percent of high school graduates that enroll in college within a few months of graduation, the adult students that make up 31% of the undergraduate population (to say nothing of the graduate population), and the international undergraduates whose share of the student population has risen by 67% since 2000, according to the report. To say that these students bring diverse circumstances and needs  to their college experience is an understatement.

Yet still, institutions under address this diversity of circumstances at their own peril. Often when institutions talk about helping student persist, they mostly focus on academics (grades, GPA, showing up to class) to the exclusion of students’ life and career concerns. While it’s true that students enter college to gain new knowledge and skills, their academic potential is equal to their potential for growth in other aspects of their lives. A coaching mindset is particularly effective at helping institutions accommodate the diverse needs of their student body and facilitate growth in life and career management.

This mindset is rooted in a few beliefs:

  • Learners’ lives will improve by earning their degree
  • Learner motivation and attitude is a larger factor in their success than the skills they begin with (growth mindset)
  • Learners begin their experience without having all the knowledge they need to be successful—coaching ensures they gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to graduate
  • Coaching moves the learner experience forward and is integral to the learner’s success

These beliefs are typified in a three-pillar approach to student success coaching: academic, life, and career. The diversity of the college student experience remains an amalgam of distinctive personal, academic, and professional challenges, which is why it is so important to think holistically about student success. The coaching approach is driven by questions, questions that get at the heart of the barriers students face in their classes, their lives, and their careers. By focusing on the whole student, institutions can help students proactively navigate their paths to graduation.

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.