The New School Year - Part 2


It's just over two weeks until the start of classes for the 2013 fall semester, which means my colleagues and I are hard at work making sure we are ready to go on Day 1. Right now, I am primarily working on making a final list of students with which we will either definitely be working (as in the case of new or returning students on academic probation or warning) as well as those "borderline" students who we will be offering an optional but highly recommended opportunity to participate in the program.

This semester, our roster includes 18 incoming freshmen who were admitted on probationary status, 25 students I culled from a freshman class of over 400 students who fall into the "borderline" category, and 25 returning students whose spring semester grades put them on either academic probation or warning. I am especially pleased with this last number, as it represents a huge drop from that of previous years. It's a good feeling to have the personal knowledge that our program is effective (and only becoming more so) corroborated by data; after all, numbers do not lie.

I am also excited about the prospect of bringing these "borderline" students into the program. In order to make my final list, I went through the transcripts of every single freshman who will be walking onto our campus in two weeks, and looked for potential issues. Did a student do well overall but consistently struggled in a particular, core area? Were a student's ACT or SAT scores significantly higher or lower than his or her classroom grades? Did a student have a chronic problem with tardiness or absenteeism? One girl on my list of 25, for example, missed nearly 20 days of school (and in one year she missed 24) every year of high school. This pattern could potentially speak to a lack of motivation, a chaotic home environment or one in which education was undervalued or simple immaturity, all of which could have a deleterious effect on her ability to succeed in college. As I went through these transcripts, I ranked students (1-3) according to how much or little they seemed at risk.

The 25 in my final list will be receiving a letter from our admissions director informing them that we would like to pair them up with a success coach for the fall semester. Participation in the program will not be required; however, we strongly recommend that they do participate. I am also going to talk to the athletic coaches to see if any of these students are on their teams. Our coaches are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of success coaching, and for those students who are on athletic teams; their coaches are going to personally request that they join the program.

Now that I have a complete list of the students who will (or who we hope will) be joining us, it's time to assign students to specific coaches. Most of the time, this process is either random (as in the case of incoming freshmen about whom we know very little) or a continuation of the status quo. Most students who return to the program, and who have therefore worked with a certain coach before, choose to remain with the same coach. There are, however, cases in which we do match students with coaches based on perceived compatibility.

For example, sometimes a coach will recommend that a student receive a different coach for a second semester in the program. This decision can be based on the gender, age, or temperament of a particular coach or it can be based on the precept that a student may simply bond more naturally with someone else. For example, we had a female student last semester who did alright but who is still on academic probation this fall. In conversations with her coach, it became apparent that this young woman was in need of a strong, male role model in her life. Her coach and I both agreed that she might do better, therefore, with a male coach, and so this year we are pairing her with our very best.

Similarly, another student who struggled last year largely because she was dealing with a double dose of social isolation and homesickness, so this fall I have matched her with a coach who spent more than 20 years as a counselor in public schools. Yet another student, a football player whose coach left to take another job at the end of last year, is going to be working with a colleague of mine whose life has revolved around football for decades. Her husband and both of her sons played football, and her husband (as well as one of her sons) coaches professionally. I'm sure this student would do fine with anyone on our very capable team, but why not match him with someone with whom he has something in common?

There is still much work to be done before classes start for this brand new school year, but day by day my colleagues and I are doing our best to ensure that we will be ready.

Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007.  The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.