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A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way in College Retention

A study released today from Stanford University on student coaching holds promise for a cost-effective way to keeping students progressing in college.

Having a coach check in weekly with a college student to ask how classes are going and offer advice on managing his or her workload appears to significantly increase retention and graduation rates, according to a working paper, "The Effects of Student Coaching: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Advising" by Eric Bettinger, associate professor of education at Stanford, and doctoral student Rachel Baker.

Trained coaches working from phone banks would review the students' course schedule and then talk with them by phone, or drop them an e-mail or text to "nudge" students along to complete their tasks, said Bettinger. The coaches developed a rapport with the students, and the encouraging relationship appears to have paid off.

There was a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in retention and graduation rates among those in the coached group compared with the group that wasn't coached.

The study uses data from the national one-on-one coaching firm, InsideTrack, which has coached students at colleges and universities across the country for the past 10 years. The researchers compared the academic records of more than 13,500 students from eight diverse colleges and universities, some of whom were coached and others who were not. The randomly selected students were balanced demographically and tracked in the 2003-04 and 2007-08 school years.

The universities in the study gave the researchers data on student persistence after six, 12, 18, and 24 months. Degree-completion data were also provided on some.

After six months, the coached student group led the non-coached group in retention by about 10 percent. After 12 months, it went up to 12 percent. The coached group also led at 18 months and 24 months, by 15 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The results held when the researchers controlled for age, gender, SAT or ACT scores, high school GPA, and scholarships and grants.

Graduation rates were 13 percent higher for coached students in the subsample where completion-rate information was available.

With higher education struggling with funding issues, it's encouraging to find a tested model that appears to be cost-effective. The cost of the coaching is about $1,000 per student.

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