Student success coaches for online learners

September 22, 2019
  • Competencies
  • Enrollment Management
  • Online and Distance Learning
  • Retention
  • Technological Knowledge
  • Technology
  • Student Success
smiling woman with headphones sitting on couch at laptop and writing on notepad

Online learners have unique educational needs -- and institutions across the country are researching, rethinking, and reinventing best practices and processes in order to discover and meet those needs.

Toward that end, the American College of Education (ACE) in Indiana has developed a new role on campus called the Student Success Coach. These coaches are the primary contact for ACE students from enrollment through graduation -- the same person for the entire journey. 

Since deploying the coaches in summer 2017, ACE has seen a 4 percent decrease in melt and a 2 percent increase in term-to-term retention.

“Coaches are good for students and for us,” said Stephanie Hinshaw, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs. “They offer the support students want and, as an institution, our interventions are more efficient and effective.”

What do coaches do?

Student Success Coaches are responsible for onboarding new students, outreach to at-risk students, and fielding questions from students. As soon as students are enrolled, they're paired with a coach and begin a self-paced orientation process.

“That way they become acclimated right away with the coaching service and can get their questions answered in the way they want them answered,” Hinshaw. 

Hand-in-hand with technology

The coaching system is tightly tied to the learning management system (LMS) so students can self-serve as much as possible, as many modern learners prefer.

“We know that 21st century learners don’t want to pick up the phone; they want a text or an email instead,” Hinshaw said. “They want quick videos, not 80-page manuals. So supporting technologies are key to the work our coaches are doing to serve students in the digital age.” 

An online video library offers bite-size how-tos on a broad range of topics, including student life, policy questions, internships, and how to fill out and upload forms. Early warning software helps coaches identify at-risk students, and the technology prompts when, how, and how often to intervene. Students also have access to a digital writing center, a digital tools center for tech support, and 24/7 tutoring, which is outsourced. 

“It’s important to remember that sometimes outsourcing certain tools, like tutoring, is more cost effective and more powerful for students,” Hinshaw said. “We forget institutions don’t have to do everything themselves.”

Thanks to these technological resources, one coach can serve as many as 600 students. 

“The technologies and communication strategies we’ve developed around the coaches make it so it isn’t one-to-one transactional,” added Bob Ernst, Vice President of Student Affairs. “It’s very efficient and meets students where they are.” 

Learn more about this effective coaching strategy and the technologies that support it at Hinshaw and Ernst's session at the AACRAO SEM Conference, Nov. 3-6 in Dallas.