What you learn about a student’s academic future when you ask what goes on outside the classroom

When students at Austin Community College visit their advisors, they get more than the kind of help they expect. They also get support they may not realize they need. Last summer, ACC partnered with InsideTrack for Training and Consulting services. After InsideTrack trained the advising team in coaching strategies, student meetings about things like enrollment and transfer applications started branching off into other topics that had a surprising impact on persistence and completion. In a recent conversation with InsideTrack, one ACC advising specialist reflected on how a coaching approach can tell you more about a student’s future success than registration records and transcripts ever could.

Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

InsideTrack: What do you find most rewarding about advising community college students?

ACC: I like knowing that I can help students to walk out of my office with a plan, whether that’s to register for classes, or to go get their books, or to do more research on what school they want to transfer to. I also like that each student I talk to is different than the one that came before. ACC has a saying: “Start Here. Get There.” I always tell students that their “there” is different. And whatever that “there” is for them, that’s what I want to help them with. I’ll be their partner through that process. Some students come in with a clear path of where they want to be, and some of them don’t. That’s where InsideTrack has helped me the most — helping students drill down to figure out exactly what they want.

InsideTrack: How do you use coaching strategies to help students clarify their goals?

ACC: Every student is a unique individual. InsideTrack helps me put a frame around the picture of the student by identifying areas of concern that the student may have. Once those concerns have been voiced, I’m able to help students dig deeper into one or more of those areas. It’s kind of easy sometimes to say to a student, “oh, you want to take that class next semester? Okay, here you go! Thank you! Have a good day!” InsideTrack has helped me look more at the whole student and what may be impacting his or her ability to succeed at ACC.

InsideTrack: Could you share some of your experiences using this whole student approach?

ACC:  I have one student who is visually impaired. He’s a wonderful young man. He’s brilliant. He told me he wanted to transfer to a university to get a degree in psychology and work in higher education. During one session, he finally came to the point of why. He said the real reason he wanted to do this was so he could make sure that other people with disabilities aren’t treated unfairly. That may have been the first time that he has ever said it that way. It was remarkable to me that we were able to get to that point. That entire thing only took five minutes. Now he’s working on his application for the University of Texas. They’ve already talked to him about their B.A. to Ph.D. program, and he’ll be a very good candidate.

InsideTrack: How do you think you’re able to unlock that kind of self-awareness from students?

ACC: InsideTrack has taught me to be a better listener. I had another student who came in and said, “I need to register for next semester.” Because of InsideTrack training, I asked a little bit more, to dig a little bit deeper. That just took the whole conversation in a different path. I asked her about her ultimate goals.  She said her goal for going to school was to get an apartment for her and her son. And then she started telling me that she had been laid off about a year earlier after 18 years at the same job, and was living with a friend. She hasn’t been able to find a new job so she’s taking a class in office administration to improve her computer skills. That was our first meeting. We met four Fridays in a row after that. The next week we met, I said, “Call this place, talk to him, he’s going to get you set up with daycare after school.” And then I said, “I’m going to have you call this person to see if you’re eligible for this program that will pay for your college.” We have all of those programs in place. If she hadn’t said those things, I might never have known the help she needed, and she might never have come back to ACC.

InsideTrack: Do you think that student was surprised that your conversation took that direction? Did she think she would get that from working with an advisor?

ACC: When she left, she said, “I can’t believe what we talked about today. I had no idea there was somebody like you out there.”

InsideTrack: What has surprised you most about taking a coaching approach to advising?

ACC: InsideTrack has allowed me to ask the questions that the students themselves may not have really thought about sharing.  Sometimes that will change the whole direction of what the student planned to talk about. Many students have voiced their appreciation and told me, “I’m so glad I came in here today.”


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