Four years ago, Ivy Tech Community College dedicated itself to raising its fall-to-fall retention rates among students, and in particular wanted to focus on its “21st Century Scholar” students, who benefit from a scholarship program for low-income Indiana students.
The recently-released results of a three-year assessment speak to the success of a coaching initiative launched to help better support these students; fall-to-fall retention rates at Ivy Tech increased from 36.9% to 49.6% over that time, while the coaching program at IUPUI increased from 50% to 63% in the most “at risk” 21st Century Scholars. Cory Clasemann-Ryan, the assistant vice president of student success at Ivy Tech Community College, said the coaches strive to make students comfortable by using the means of communication that work best for them.
“Really from the start, they want to take a holistic approach to the student and get to know them as a total person, knowing their lives are complicated,” he said. “They’re not necessarily the traditional college students we think of; they may have families, kids, or a job ... and it’s finding out what their long-term career goals and strategies are.”
Clasemann-Ryan said the coaches, who work remotely, address questions beyond academics and assist students with whatever their particular difficulties may be. Some students may have questions withn regards to navigating college administration, while others may be determining how best to juggle child care, their professional career and their studies. The program was first initiated with support from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and the new data exceeded even their expectations. Many of the students were the first in their families to attend college, and Clasemann-Ryan said having the coach follow a student throughout the entirety of the first year could deliver a sea change in the student’s confidence level.
“For the coaches, it’s building that relationship so the student can reach out to them when they do have questions,” he said. “You actually get to see them evolve and how their attitudes change during the course of the year, from ‘I don’t know how to do this and I feel lost,’ to building that mindset of ‘I can do this, and I can be successful, and people like me can be successful.’”
Ivy Tech is now seeking ways to expand the program beyond the 21st Century Scholar students; Classeman-Ryan said the coaches were now working with every enrolled first-generation African-American student in the schools, and were embarking on a pilot program with online students. He said that the school hoped to target students enrolled full-time on online courses, as these students typically are not as successful.
“It’s not just about the academics, it’s not just the home life,” he said. “It’s about figuring out how those complicated pieces fit together...if you do that, you can build the trust in the student, and that’s what you need to do if you’re going to build a plan for the student to be successful. Coaches do an extremely good job at doing that.”