Want to Increase College Students’ Graduation Rates? Coach Them, Researchers Find
 
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For Immediate Release                                                                                               
October 17, 2013             

Contact: Tony Pals, tpals@aera.net                                                        
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Want to Increase College Students’ Graduation Rates?
Coach Them, Researchers Find

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 17, 2013 — Individualized coaching of college students boosts student persistence and completion, while being less costly to implement than targeted financial aid programs and other intervention methods, according to a new article published online in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Stanford University researchers Eric P. Bettinger and Rachel B. Baker, authors of “The Effects of Student Coaching: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Advising,” found that students regularly contacted by counselors offering academic and life-skills coaching were more likely to persist with their studies and graduate. Coaching led to bigger gains in retention and completion than even increased financial aid, while also being less costly to implement.

By helping students identify success strategies, use available resources, and advocate for themselves, coaches help students overcome the kinds of adverse academic and life challenges that often contribute to dropping out. Coaches also assist students with defining clear goals, connecting their daily activities with long-range goals, and building time management and study skills.

“We assume that students know how to behave,” Bettinger and Baker wrote in their article. “We assume that they know how to study, how to prioritize, and how to plan. However, given what we know about rates of college persistence, this is an assumption that should be called into question.”

The United States ranks only 12th globally in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college credential, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show that only 54.1 percent of all first-time undergraduates in the United States earn a degree within six years. Meanwhile, institutional finances — as well as federal and state budgets — are under unprecedented strain.

Bettinger and Baker looked specifically at InsideTrack, a for-profit student coaching service. During the study period, InsideTrack provided coaching over two academic years to mostly nontraditional students enrolled in degree programs at four-year public, private nonprofit, and for-profit universities. As a group, nontraditional students face more of the risk factors associated with college noncompletion than traditional students. Bettinger and Baker note that InsideTrack emphasizes proactive outreach to students and uses full-time counselors, rather than trained upperclassmen, to coach new students.  

“As college completion and persistence become increasingly important, colleges have to identify more effective strategies for helping students,” said Bettinger. “No one strategy fits everyone, and proactive coaches can carefully customize strategies to fit the specific needs of individuals.”

During the first year of being coached, students were about 5 percentage points more likely to persist in college, representing a 9 percent to 12 percent increase in retention. At the 18-month and two-year marks, coached students were 3 to 4 percentage points more likely to persist, representing roughly a 15 percent jump in retention. Coached students ended up with graduation rates 4 percentage points higher than uncoached students after four years.  

Bettinger and Baker found that while both male and female students benefited from coaching, the impact was higher among men. Nationally, male students are less likely to complete college than their female counterparts, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

The full EEPA article, “The Effects of Student Coaching: An Evaluation of a Randomized Experiment in Student Advising,” is available online through the AERA website. 

About the Authors

Eric P. Bettinger is an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Contact information: ebettinger@stanford.edu, 650-736-7727.

Rachel B. Baker is a doctoral candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Contact information: rbbaker@stanford.edu, 650-736-1258.

About AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.

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