The fact that the number of American college students has been steadily increasing since 1970s has been overshadowed by the alarming rates of student dropout and attrition that have steadily remained at 50%. Analysis of the problem of student dropouts and degree completion rates have stumbled upon a wealth of different explanations, thus, delving into the root causes of so many young people quitting school in spite of the obviously higher chances to land a good job upon graduation. The problem is not new to academia and policymakers, yet recently it has resurfaced in several speeches of President Obama, who emphasized low completion rates among American students. The present literature review wishes to outline existing trends in the literature on academic coaching as an innovative method for addressing student retention problems, as well as borrow some insights into coaching from the business sector.
Much of the existing literature on college retention and sets aside two categories of factors responsible for students staying in or dropping out of college; these are academic and non-academic factors. Among the academic factors of retention, for instance, are standardized measures of student academic performance, like ACT Assessment scores, high school GPA, and socioeconomic status. The non-academic factors include time management and study skills, level of social integration on campus, and commitment to earning a definite, to cite a few. The articles outlined in the academic coaching part of the present literature review seem to converge on the idea, whereby it takes a combination of both academic non-academic factors to shape the student’s decision so as to stay or leave college. In their view, coaching is meant to address the different sets of variables influencing student retention.
The concept of academic coaching is typically used to signify the teacher-learner interactions aimed at achieving maximum student productivity and learning outcomes. In fact, Lotkowski, Robbins, & North deem the quality of student interactions with their professors on campus as one of the key factors influencing college retention. The authors infer that academic coaching can ideally complement and enhance such teacher-learner interactions. Nevertheless, from a recent survey of college staff carried out by the ACT and the National Academic Advising Association, it becomes clear that many colleges underestimate the advantages of academic coaching when it comes to improving their college retention rates. The authors admit there have been remarkably few comprehensive programs in place using academic coaching as a remedy against student dropouts. Such coaching programs may generate solutions to the most common challenges that first-year students face in their new academic environment. Some of these challenges include substance abuse, sex education, depression, anxiety, or personal budgeting. The coaches may also organize or facilitate student attendance at scheduled university gatherings and informal social get-togethers, where students in question can make new friends and feel better equipped to handle their first-year challenges.
In his article on academic coaching, Barkley retreats to his personal experiences as a professor of microeconomics in saying that the need for academic coaching is a call of the time and increasing market expectations of undergraduate students. Barkley argues that the old-style rigorous approach to studies and curriculum should be enriched with the modern-day techniques of collaborative learning and advising. He comments that where academic coaching takes place, it normally transcends the boundaries of a traditional classroom by offering students a variety of activities that go beyond everyday academic routines and help the struggling students fit in their surroundings better. According to Barkley, such collaborative learning helps students feel more confident of their professional future and better integrated socially in their institution’s networks. Thereby, he associates academic coaching with more of an innovative and non-traditional approach to teaching, rather than a distinct educational policy of improving student retention.
A more recent study by Bettinger and Baker describes randomized experiments on student groups, one of which became subject to academic coaching in their educational institution and the other was not. The scholars, drawing on existing theory, mention two views of factors accountable for student completion rates: financial difficulties and academic incentives. The first view tries to capture the marginal increase in retention rates with an increase in financial aid. The second view accords close attention to already mentioned patterns of communication on campus, which may be improved with the help of academic coaching, among other things. However, Bettinger and Baker (2011) infer that academic coaching in combination with financial support yields maximum improvement in retention percentage (p. 8).
Bettinger and Baker (2011) also try to gauge the impact of academic coaching services on the actual improvement in student retention and graduation rates. The researchers’ partner to the study, InsideTrack, utilizes their own blend of tools, curricula, and technology to satisfy the individual needs of each student and institution. The InsideTrack coaches typically work with first-year students and help them set priorities in their studies. They also help them better organize their time outside the classroom, which is the most powerful predictor of academic success and retention, according to the organization. Using data from InsideTrack, Bettinger and Baker (2011) report greater completion and retention indices in the group that received coaching services as compared to the group that did not. The authors also found that these results stayed consistent overtime; after 6, 12, 18, and 24 months of post-tests, the coached students were by 5.2, 5.3, 4.3, and 3.4 percentage points respectively more likely to continue enrolment than the non-coached students were. In addition, those findings were still significant at α=.01 controlling for gender, age, high school GPA, scholarship awards, and a few other possibly lurking variables.
Somewhat less optimistic outcome was accomplished in the Opening Doors Program conducted in Lorain County Community College and Owens Community College, Ohio. This program provided advanced coaching services and a small stipend to students in the low-income bracket in both colleges. The program also featured two groups, of which one received the program’s enhanced coaching services and the other did not. The researchers found that the Program indeed improved student enrolment and academic performance in the experimental group following the first semester of study. However, the program did not significantly affect the status quo in the subsequent semesters, which presents some contrast to the previous study. Researchers also indicate the Opening Doors program’s results lack in external validity, which prevents the applicability of its findings to other colleges in the US.
Current scientific debates on coaching also touch on the business sector, where such coaching presumably helps to improve business operations. Executive coaching typically stands for a relationship between an organizational decision-maker and a consultant who work together towards achieving certain institutional objectives. In its broader meaning, coaching refers to presenting people with tools, expertise, and better chances to succeed in their careers. Feldman and Lankau, in their detailed literature review on the subject, contemplate about the qualifications of a perfect coach, as well as provide guidelines and approaches to different phases of coaching of business executives. According to the authors, executive coaching presents a “black box” feel in that most scholars agree on its importance for the organization, yet no one can tell how coaching works or how it can be further improved.
In another executive coaching study by Harder + Company Community Research, the authors report positive outcomes for executives’ personal development and their ability to manage staff effectively, make crucial leadership decisions, and influence organizational development. Based on a subjective review of their coaches’ work, 15 out of 24 of the respondents in the study were extremely satisfied with the results of the experiment, 4 respondents were somewhat satisfied, and 3 reported a neutral position on the effects of coaching on their organizations. The authors hope that the convincingly positive results of their study will help to change a “we’re a poor nonprofit” mentality by having a growing number of organizations engage outside coaching services in training their staff.
In one more study that merits attention here, the University of Southern California’s Alec Levenson undertakes to measure the “black box” impacts of executive coaching and maximize them. He discusses common methodological and conceptual hurdles in gauging the organizational impacts of executive coaching. He goes over several real-life issues in an organizational environment, where coaching might prove helpful. The researcher arrives at a conclusion that the effectiveness of coaching largely depends on the trainee’s role in the organization, as well as the correlation between work environment and individual contribution. Levenson also makes a reservation that coaching alone rarely if ever helps achieve significant improvement; instead, it should be combined with other interventions for greater impact.