Key webinar insights: HBCUs Unlock the Power of Coaching

Learn how HBCUs are using coaching to help amplify connection and belonging

During last week’s webinar, HBCUs Unlock the Power of Coaching: Accelerating Student Belonging and Success, leaders from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the Partnership for Education Advancement and InsideTrack came together to discuss how personalized coaching can fuel student success, helping learners overcome barriers to persist and reach their educational goals.

Julian Thompson, Director of Strategy Development at UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building (ICB), framed the conversation by saying he wakes up every day thinking about “The practices, skill development and new partnerships that can help HBCUs establish their next chapter in supporting their students, their faculty and their staff.” He noted that the challenge is to “find partners that can turbocharge what’s already great about HBCUs” — including inclusiveness and belonging.

For Dr. Ka’rin Thornburg, Director of Partnership Engagement, Program Development and Effectiveness at Partnership for Education Advancement, “Student success at HBCUs is absolutely about connection and belonging. But it also has to be about formalized support and engagement throughout the student journey to ensure that students not only persist and graduate, but that they also become stewards of their institutions and proud alumni.” That’s why this partnership has blossomed – because coaching can make a real impact.

“What do we mean when we say ‘coaching’?”

Megan Breiseth, Associate Vice President of Learning & Development at InsideTrack, said that while coaching has a variety of different meanings, InsideTrack is clear on what it is, how it works and how it makes a positive impact on both students and institutions. “The goal of coaching is the goal of the person you’re coaching,” she said. “Coaching means showing up with intention, making the connection and giving another individual your attention and care. Coaching focuses on understanding and developing learners’ abilities and mindset and increasing access to resources. And coaching builds clarity and confidence.”

Taking it a step further, Malika Clinkscales, Associate Vice President of Partner Success at InsideTrack (and proud HBCU graduate), noted that students view their coach as an ally. “The coach is your person. Your thought partner. Your safe space. Coaching provides a way to move things forward and provides meaningful connections between individuals.”

Innovative partnerships add another layer of student support

The panelists also walked through what coaching can look like in action, discussing a pilot initiative in which several UNCF institutions partnered with InsideTrack in a re-enrollment program to proactively re-engage and reconnect students who had stopped out from a select cohort of nine HBCUs and PBIs. As a result, 344 stopped-out students re-enrolled for the fall term — representing 8.6% of the original outreach and 38.3% of the students who had engaged with coaches. A full 25% of those who re-enrolled were first-generation students. Coaching showed the importance of creating personal connections with students at every phase of their journey.

This pilot program served as a first step in what would become a multi-year, multi-campus networked partnership designed to support the students who needed it most — and propel them forward. In the next phase of the partnership, InsideTrack is incorporating retention coaching and capacity building for long-term success. Malika explained that through capacity building, “We train HBCU staff to have the capacity to build and maintain their own internal coaching program. The goal is that when we leave, you have a program that can stand up independently and successfully support more students for years to come.”

In an expansive partnership with the Partnership for Education Advancement, InsideTrack will also provide re-enrollment and retention coaching for first-year students and capacity building at ten additional HBCU campuses. Combined with the UNCF partnership, this multi-year initiative will help to not only improve HBCU and PBI student enrollment, retention and completion, but will also sustainably build in-house coaching capacity for dozens of HBCU campuses.

Dr. Thornburg sums it up beautifully, saying “I believe in the power of education. This is a program that really bolsters retention, for new and existing students. Borne out of a response to uplift what HBCUs do naturally, what they do well every day, by augmenting that work with proven engagement strategies that really support students where they are going with their growth and development.”

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