A Model for Success

The name—Student Success Office—really says it. It’s a new holistic approach to supporting students, launched this fall at Saint Mary’s, that combines a collaborative network of people, individual coaching, and high-tech tools to help students thrive and succeed.

“The aim of the HP BrochureStudent Success Office is to provide students with access to the resources and mentoring they need to build academic, personal, and professional success in college and beyond,” said Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success Dr. Tracy Pascua Dea, who leads the newly established SSO that combines five reconfigured offices under one umbrella—Student Engagement and Academic Success (SEAS), Career and Professional Development Services, the High Potential program, Student Disability Services, and the Tutorial and Academic Skills Center.

Core to SSO’s approach is a one-on-one coaching program, in partnership with InsideTrack—a San Francisco company offering expertise in higher education coaching, analytics, and technology. This year, for the first time, every incoming student (first year and transfer) is assigned a SEAS coach who will meet with them at least twice a semester, help them map out their individual path, track progress, introduce resources and opportunities, and make referrals to SSO colleagues and others on campus.

The effectiveness of this coaching model is supported by a landmark paper by Eric Bettinger, associate professor of economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Published in 2013 in the American Education Research Association’s journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the paper reported that an independent review of controlled studies on the effects of InsideTrack coaching showed a consistent improvement of as much as 15 percent in retention and graduation for students across all demographics. The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse reviewed Bettinger’s analysis of InsideTrack methodology and found it met their evidence standards without reservations.

At Saint Mary's, the coach, who complements the work of the faculty adviser and other campus partners, will stay with the student all four years, to ensure a successful transition to college, on-track progress to graduation, and deep preparation for a fulfilling career and personal life. The coach is the hub for all other services on campus in a highly connected web of support. Eventually all Saint Mary’s students will have a coach.

“We look at the student as a whole person. It’s not just about academics; it’s about life,” said SEAS Director Corliss Watkins. “We will empower students to remove any barriers to their own success, help them address concerns, like financial issues, for example, that certainly can affect their academic success. And we’ll point them to the right resources for answers.”

An important campus resource for first-generation and low-income students is the High Potential program, led by Director Tarik Scott and faculty Co-Director Gloria Aquino Sosa. HP’s ability to support the success of these students was significantly enhanced by a $1.1 million award in 2015 from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The five-year grant, funded through the DOE’s TRIO Student Support Services Program, underwrites higher education efforts to motivate and prepare students underrepresented on college campuses for academic success and graduation. The TRIO grant has made it possible for HP to work more deeply with qualified students.

“We are going from a program that primarily focused on the HP student’s first year, with ongoing connection with peer mentors, to a more robust program to support students throughout all four years,” Scott said. “We have four graduate student counselors who will provide individualized coaching for HP students, plus tutoring services, financial literacy workshops, exposure to postgraduate options and, for the first time, scholarship money for the students demonstrating the most need.”

These changes to HP and the introduction of the coaching model represent wraparound support for a student’s entire undergraduate career at Saint Mary’s, Scott said. “We don’t pretend that a coach will have all the answers right off the bat. It’s more a conversation in which we figure out together who on campus or off can help students achieve their goals. We will function as an information hub with a commitment to high standards of excellence and support. It should feel seamless for the students.”

Watkins stressed the importance of coaching for all students. “We’re all familiar with the idea of life coaches, athletic coaches, people who mentor and guide others for success. This is a similar idea.”

Bev McLean, the director of Career and Professional Development Services (CPDS), compared it to the role of a coach in the corporate arena. “As an executive I had a coach in some of my positions,” McLean said. “It’s important to be well-prepared because, as a leader, you have influence over so many other people. It’s considered a badge of honor in that world.”

The most important goal for her department, said McLean, is to provide resources for every student to plan for and create a meaningful professional life. Energized by particular goals of the strategic plan—raising the academic profile, supporting the student life cycle, and getting the message out about SMC’s competitiveness—McLean is amping up external outreach with potential employers, marketing the abilities of SMC students and the quality of their preparation, developing more internships, increasing engagement with alumni, “and offering training for students in career literacy and how to present themselves to potential employers. These are keys to lifelong employability in the working world,” McLean said. Her department will offer training at times that work with student schedules, particularly important for graduate students who may only have evening and weekend hours to devote to such resources.

SSO’s student support network also relies on an easy-to-use technical backbone—EAB’s Student Success Collaborative, an interactive communications, workflow, and analytics platform that supports deans, faculty, staff, and students, giving them access to resources, progress reports, alerts, and a wealth of data that can predict problems before they become problems. It’s a one-stop comprehensive view of a student’s progress, with the full picture visible only to coaches.

Playing a key role in this collaborative tool is Student Success Coordinator Jim Fawcett, who is responsible for training users, answering user questions, and analyzing and reporting data. “The Student Success Collaborative is a more user-friendly tool than the previous system with its bulkier administrative functions.”

"Faculty and staff can view student information, and, in the future, students will be able to identify their SEAS coach and their academic advisor and schedule appointments with them as well as sign up for tutoring or writing center sessions,” Fawcett said. “We will continue to roll out new features, including an app called the EAB Guide (piloting in spring 2017), which will give students mobile access from their phones and tablets to this world of information and resources.”

This new system offers various levels of access for different audiences within a robust information platform, Fawcett added. “It’s more efficient for everyone and more effective. But, in the end, it benefits the students and their path to success, which is our larger purpose.”

With the support of such robust analytics, an innovative coaching model and a higher level of collaboration and connectivity, Pascua Dea said, “the Student Success Office combines high touch with high tech for high-impact results for our students.”

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