Study Finds Academic ‘Coaching’ Boosts Graduation Rates

In October, 2008, as a second-year graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was assigned a first-year student to mentor. I looked forward to mentoring Augustus, who was from Dominica in the Caribbean, and share the extensive knowledge I had gained about the school and the policy world. Would he ask about my experience at Chicago Public Schools? Was he interested in the best classes to take? Would he ask for help on how best to get a summer internship? There was so much I could share with him.

At our first meeting, Augustus said he had only one question. “Will I need a winter coat this winter in Chicago?”

“Winter coat?” I roared, “You need a coat, and a hat, and gloves, a scarf and boots!”

I was reminded of this story when reading the New York Times blog entry about the value of mentoring and coaching to students. The article highlights recent research by Eric Bettinger and  Rachel Baker of Stanford showing that mentoring and coaching help increase retention rates 10 – 15% at colleges and universities. Mentors included faculty, staff and upperclassmen.

I have long believed in the importance of mentoring programs and was heartened to see empirical evidence of their efficacy in an academic setting. Two of the goals of Reinvention are to help students successfully transfer and obtain credentials of economic value. Helping students remain in school is a necessary pre-condition for this to happen. The question we need to answer is how to most effectively do this.

I have seen models that work; I am looking for advice on ways we can make them happen at Harold Washington. I was fortunate to participate in a “Mocktails” speed mentoring event on Thursday evening with a number of Illinois Education Foundation Scholars and was so impressed by the students in attendance (and happy to see many Harold Washington College students at the event). I have been in discussions with Professor Anita Kelley about mentoring programs for our students in her area. In a discussion with Jared Klaeysen this past Friday, I learned of the great work Phi Theta Kappa is doing to serve our students. While on campus on Saturday, I saw a Professor (who I don’t yet know) follow an obviously distraught student to make sure she was OK.  I look forward to learning more about what we can do to support students.

The article points out that mentoring and coaching can also be a more cost-effective solution than other approaches to increase retention. That increases the likelihood we will be able to implement mentoring programs at the school. And whatever the cost, I hope it is more effective than buying winter coats, hats, boots and gloves for everyone. On the flip side, Augustus didn’t freeze to death – but he did complete the program. Maybe the researchers could next study the types of advice that are most effective. I’ll bet winter dress doesn’t make the list. 

One thought on “Study Finds Academic ‘Coaching’ Boosts Graduation Rates

  1. Great post. This type of reflective thought and applying it to our current situation is exactly what HWC needs. Thanks. In the meantime, your spotlight is another great metaphor…hope you are ready, willing and stable.

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