Powered by Predictive Data: How Central Carolina Community College Will Identify and Support At-Risk Students through Proactive Coaching

Tablet with data

For boosting completion rates for at-risk students, how much of a difference can structured student coaching make? Here’s what Central Carolina Community College is trying.


The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar “First in the World” grants to 18 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

This was the second year of the First in the World grants. You can read our interviews with the 24 institutions that received 2014 grants here.

Central Carolina Community College set out to improve completion rates for at-risk students by embedding success coaches in targeted departments in Spring 2013, as part of a larger initiative funded by a 2012 Title III grant that included launching a College Success Center, adding the team of success coaches, and implementing an early alert advising system. The addition of coaching has already led to a 13 percent increase in student persistence.

Now, with the help of a $9.2 million First in the World grant — the largest of the 2015 grants — CCCC hopes to expand their proactive coaching model and its results across North Carolina. We talked with Brian Merritt, vice president of student learning, to learn more about:

  • How their success coaching model works
  • How they will support the coaching efforts with predictive data
  • The elements necessary to successfully expand the success coach model across other institutions

Given its early success, there may be a lot that can be learned here for your own institution.

A Look Inside the “Carolina Works” Success Coaching Model

It can be tough to give students the help they need when faculty are also teaching full-time, Merritt explains. Adding success coaches in targeted academic departments — including some of the largest on campus, where students are more likely to fall through the cracks — helps CCCC better identify and support the students who need support most.

At CCCC, success coaches:

  • Carry caseloads of 500 to 600 students
  • Teach student success courses in the fall and spring semesters
  • Are embedded within departments (in CCCC’s academic programs for Early Childhood Education, Criminal Justice, Business Technologies, the four Computer Technologies programs, Office Administration, University Transfer, and several others)
  • Use data from the CCCC advising system, which includes early alerts, notes and targeted alerts sent by faculty, and items like past academic performance to inform coaching

“By embedding these coaches in departments, we’re  able to be present where the students are,” Merritt explains. These are full-time, on-campus employees who interact with students and know the ins and outs of our campus well, not third parties located off campus.

The First in the World project seeks to start success coaching at the nine partner schools in Fall 2016. The study will encompass nearly 16,000 students across the 10 schools, with 8,000 students in the intervention group. Partners include:

  • Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
  • Carteret Community College
  • Cleveland Community College
  • College of the Albemarle
  • Isothermal Community College
  • Pamlico Community College
  • Randolph Community College
  • Roanoke Chowan Community College
  • Southwestern Community College

Driven by Predictive Data

To help identify predictive indicators of student need for support, CCCC uses Aviso Coaching, a web-based, online alert and planning system to manage data, and is looking at 35 to 40 factors, including: student demographics, financial aid and ability to pay, academic ability and preparation, academic performance, behaviors experienced within coursework at CCCC, and other behavioral data tracked internally within the Aviso system. Scores are calculated to determine risk potential, and students are flagged for intervention. Risk Factors are also provided back to success coaches providing insight into risk faced by students within their caseload.

Access to data anytime, anywhere plays a critical role in CCCC’s coaching initiative. Because the Aviso system is web-based and can be accessed anywhere, a coach can see a student’s full profile at any time. That information includes notes from meetings the student has already had with other success coaches, with tutors, or at the writing center. Access to this important information allows a team member to customize a student’s coaching on the spot, no matter the location.

Keys to Success

Scaling up this coaching initiative across the entire state will be a complex endeavor; coordinating the efforts of CCCC and its partners is one of the biggest challenges the project faces, Merritt notes. The campuses are spread across the state and each one is different. CCCC is working with the evaluator to make sure there are standardized procedures and expectations in place. Efforts to hire success coaches at the partner colleges are already underway.

A partnership kickoff is scheduled for February, when CCCC and the partners will standardize project elements. The kickoff will feature coach training, set expectations, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Merritt suggests that in order for this project to succeed, the partnered colleges will also need to:

  • Make sure the success coaches have an effective, hands-on manager who can help ensure coaches are following up with students in a timely way.
  • Use a customizable database and computer system (like Aviso Coaching) to collect and analyze data so that coaches can more effectively address individual student needs.
  • Be transparent with faculty and be clear about expectations; faculty support will be critical.
  • Dig deeper into the data to not only look at overall numbers but also at how the approach is working in different departments and with different groups of at-risk students.
  • Talk to faculty in areas where the approach isn’t working as well to determine what can be done differently. Faculty are on the ground working with students every day, and their input wioll be vital.

Why You Should Watch This Project

Because many community colleges have used the same student support measures for a long time, Merritt suggests its time to evaluate whether those measures are actually meeting the needs of students. Colleges need to be willing to take risks and try new things, and also let their approach evolve. Growing pains are okay and necessary. He adds that CCCC is considering a blog or other medium to disseminate information and share best practices and stories about their approach.

What innovations is your institution trying in order to support at-risk students?  If you have a story to share, please contact our Director of Research and Publications, Daniel Fusch, at daniel@academicimpressions.com.