Here’s how Central Georgia Technical College is expanding a student success coach program, focusing especially on GED students and students placed in developmental education.
SPOTLIGHT ON INNOVATION SERIES
The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar “First in the World” grants to 24 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.
A little more than half of the students at Central Georgia Technical College are first-generation students who may not have the family support they need to successfully navigate college. Officials at the two-year college have spent more than a decade incubating strategies to effectively support first-gen and other underrepresented and academically underprepared students through graduation. This includes an effective model for using success coaches and a college success course to help guide students through their academic career.
Now with the help of a $3.2 million First in the World grant, CGTC will expand the success coach model to all three CGTC campuses. They are also expanding the program’s focus so that two particular groups of at-risk students — students placed in developmental education courses and GED students — will both benefit from the increased support. We talked to Amy Holloway, vice president of academic affairs, and Sam Lester, professional development director and director of the FITW project, to learn more about the two key components of their model:
- A College Success Course
- Success Coaches
1. A College Success Course: Providing Heightened Support to Underprepared and GED Students
The project will target students assigned to Learning Support (the college’s developmental education program) and students enrolled in the Accelerated Opportunity program, a program that connects GED students to the technical college career pathways. Accelerated Opportunity aligns and accelerates Adult Basic Education, GED, and development programs. With heightened support, students have been much more successful academically, in some cases even out-scoring non-GED students.
Students will be assigned to the college’s three-credit College Success class, which addresses skills and resources such as:
- Study skills
- Time management
- Test-taking strategies
- Communicating with instructors
- Using the academic library
“How do you know to value a syllabus if that’s never anything that’s happened in your life?” Lester explains.
The College Success course also addresses relevancy, taking students to visit their program areas so the students can see where they’re going to be and what they’ll be doing once they complete their learning support classes. Program chairs also visit the college success courses to talk with students about how they’ll use the skills they are acquiring in future courses. “It works on the theory that what students are doing has to be relevant to some future benefit,” Lester adds. “They need to see where they’re going to be.”
In Fall 2014, CGTC offered 21 sections of College Success, serving a total of 270 students across their three campuses. Another 100 students are enrolled in the program this summer, of which four sections are on one campus and two sections each at the other two campuses.
2. Adding Success Coaches
The availability and integration of coaching is critical. Success coaches:
- Are assigned to each College Success section
- Sit in on each class to be available to students
- Meet with students outside of class to talk about their classes, their career path, and to provide advising to help students navigate through their first term in college
- Remain available to support students throughout their time at CGTC
Each campus has at least one full-time success coach, and also offers an Academic Success Center with a full-time coordinator and tutors. The approach is to offer a full support team that will be available to students.
THE DECISION TO PROVIDE COACHING IN PERSON
CGTC had previously experimented with the emporium model of online, self-directed delivery of student support but found this to be ineffective. “Putting a student in front of a computer, particularly a remedial student, in and of itself doesn’t work,” Holloway explains. CGTC’s success has been grounded in in-person coaching.
Challenges and Keys to Success
“The critical part of that success is finding the right people to drive the initiative: finding those innovators, finding those who can lead this,” Holloway says of the project. The degree of coordination, consistency, and communication will make or break the project.
The Accelerated Opportunity program involves a lot of team-teaching. For example, a GED adult education instructor may sit in on a welding class and participate in what the students in that class are doing, and then carry that experience back into the GED skills class to reinforce what they learned. That also means faculty members need to be comfortable in each others’ classrooms, which is not typical in higher education, Holloway notes.
Student volume might also prove to be a challenge for success coaches, who may still be seeing students who started four terms ago while also meeting with new students, Lester adds: “They’re pulled in a lot of directions by a lot of students.” In many cases, the relationships that students make with success coaches continue long beyond the first-term College Success course.
Why You Should Watch this Project
The payoff for the project for any college, not just CGTC, is obvious, Holloway and Lester suggest. “It just makes all the sense in the world,” Lester remarks. “If we can help these students out with a success coach and develop a relationship between the college and the student through the success coach, that’s just got to work. You get so much for so little.”
“It’s all about facilitating college access and completion,” Holloway elaborates. “It’s our reason for being, particularly as a technical college. We are an open-access institution with a workforce development mission. We do see a higher purpose in this. It’s providing that support network to ensure their success.”
Institutions of all types — including private liberal arts colleges and regional state institutions — will want to watch this project because of the degree to which success coaches and faculty from other courses are integrated throughout the new developmental curriculum. It will also be worth watching how CGTC handles student volume and the coach/student ratio over the years of this grant.