Stanford Study Says Academic Coaching Can Improve a College Student’s Graduation Chances

April 24, 2011


Eric P. Bettinger

Associate Professor, Stanford University

Students who receive one-on-one coaching may be more likely to graduate from college, according to a study released from Stanford University’s School of Education.
The study, published on the Web site of the National Bureau of Economic Research, may be particularly beneficial to colleges struggling to improve graduation and retention rates, says Dr. Eric Bettinger, the Stanford associate professor who co-authored the report with doctoral student Rachel Baker.

In the study, a group of 13,500 students from eight colleges and universities were divided into coached and non-coached sub-groups. Students from both groups came from a wide swath of educational and demographic backgrounds, ranging from merit scholarship recipients to developmental math and English students.

Surprisingly, the results were consistent across all groups. After six months, coached students were 5 percent more likely to remain enrolled in school. After 12 months, the number declined slightly, to 4.3 percent. But overall, retention and graduation rates were higher among coached students.

College coaching, a hands-on form of college mentoring, provides support for students who want to improve study habits, gain time management skills and balance work and family obligations. Data for the study was provided by InsideTrack, an organization specializing in providing hands-on counseling services to students.

Bettinger says his findings suggest that coaching may be more effective than counseling or advising, which most colleges provide.

“Traditional advising is passive,” he says. “We generally wait for students to come and seek advising help. Coaching is much more active. Coaches call, e-mail and text students. They actively pursue students in more aggressive ways.”

Previous research suggests that students who feel isolated from their college environment are more likely to drop out. This report, says Bettinger, is yet another confirmation of what researchers have suspected all along.

“Coaching targets many of the reasons why students might drop out. It makes them feel more integrated to their institution; it helps them build organizational and study skills; and it helps them confront and overcome barriers they might encounter,” he says.

Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, a professor of education at UCLA and director of the college’s Higher Education Research Institute, says the report aligns with previous findings on the effectiveness of peer coaching, a form of mentorship that may be even more effective than the traditional model.

“One thing that peers do is they provide a social network. They share information about how to navigate the institution, they share information about how to study for professors, they share information about who you see to get help,” she says. “Once you control for students who have actually seen counselors and all of that, having the additional impact of a peer network is probably key. Together, it’s actually more powerful.”

CEPA Publications