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Partnership Focuses on Enhancing Student Success Coaching Program

The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is looking to enhance its student success coaching program as its student demographics change. And it is partnering with student coaching non-profit InsideTrack to do so.Ruth Bauer WhiteRuth Bauer WhiteInsideTrack

"What UMGC has shared with us is that their student demographics are changing,” said Steve Ast, senior vice president of partner success at InsideTrack. “For many many years, they were an institution that really focused on adult completers and military-aligned individuals. What they're seeing now is, in addition to those populations, they are also working with first-time-in-college adult learners.

“These are folks who are coming with no college experience and they just have a different set of needs that the institution is trying to address."

In what InsideTrack expects to be a multi-year engagement, the Portland, Oregon-based company will work with UMGC to not only address the school’s needs in the present day but also to set up the school for the long term, what Ast calls an “enhancement and expansion.”

The company’s professional coaches will work one-on-one with up to 600 of UMGC’s first-time students – a “high-risk” category comprised of new students with no transfer credit, said Susan Hawkins-Wilding, vice president of student success at UMGC.

First-time college students may have difficulties navigating higher ed and may harbor doubts about themselves and whether they belong, said Ruth Bauer White, president of InsideTrack.

“For us, it's important to do some of the direct coaching ourselves so that we learn about their students and can provide more insights to them about what those students are experiencing,” said Bauer White.

To note, InsideTrack’s coaches will not replace UMGC success coaches – who are assigned to each student – who and guide students through academic planning and connect them to resources, Hawkins-Wilding wrote.

InsideTrack will also train and share its coaching methodology with UMGC’s coaches to further develop their skills. UMGC success coaches who undergo this training will become certified coaches who are part of InsideTrack’s coaching network, a “community of practice,” Bauer White said.

“Our goal at the end of the training program is to have leaders who are trained in InsideTrack’s coaching principals so that we can continue to hire and train new coaches and continue to develop the coaching skill sets of our current success coaches,” said Hawkins-Wilding. “This will ultimately allow us to continue training our team on the InsideTrack model after our contract ends.”

InsideTrack’s coaching methodology is “trauma-informed” and “healing-centered,” Bauer White said. UMGC coaches will learn how to better assess a student’s situation, decide which topics to focus on in their coaching, and plan to get the student moving forward.

“With these students, many times, they are adults that have families. They may be caring for children. They may be caring for elderly parents. They have a job that they're balancing. So, what does that long-term goal, that degree mean to them?” Bauer White said. “Because if they can focus on that and if we can keep them aligned on what that means, then when they face obstacles, they have the grit to persevere and work through those, with a coach alongside.”

The training will involve teaching UMGC to avoid a common pitfall of assessing students’ issues too hastily.

“When a coach starts to work with a student, it's really easy to hear the first thing that the student says as the issue that needs to be addressed that day,” Bauer White said. “They might be talking about struggling with an assignment, but then what comes up in the conversation is that they're about to move and they don't have Internet access at their new apartment.

“That is a much bigger issue to resolve in that moment. So it's really important that the coach takes the time to assess thoroughly what's going on in the [student's] life." 

UMGC – part of the larger University System of Maryland – primarily caters to adult learners, with the average age of its students being 31, according to InsideTrack. The vast majority of its undergraduate students (almost 80%) work full-time jobs and a sizable portion (35%) are caretakers for children.

InsideTrack’s own coaching strategies have evolved over the years as well, Bauer White told Diverse. Integral to their coaching now are practices of inclusion and “cultural humility.”

"Coaching has shifted over the years just to be more inclusive and to understand that every student has a unique experience,” she said. “Having cultural humility as coaches is important. Understanding that, even if you come from the same background as the person you are coaching [or] if you have a similar identity, your experience is different. Being able to just center on the student and what they need at that time is something that coaching has evolved to understand."

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