Why would high-performing grad students struggle with their coursework?

InsideTrack figured it out — and cooked up a plan to improve outcomes.

The Insight: When high-performing graduate students started to experience academic challenges, their coach realized that they weren’t comfortable asking for help, and didn’t take advantage of student support services. This reluctance to reach out for support could help explain the program’s retention and completion rates, which lagged behind that of other programs at the institution.  

The Improvement: By actively collaborating with coaching services and implementing student feedback, the program leveraged student-trusted faculty and staff to reframe and consistently communicate the benefits of the program and its many student support services.

A window into the student experience

A competitive graduate program attracting top government employees, business owners and even a CFO. A stellar faculty leading highly sought-after courses. With plenty of talent to go around, why were students on the verge of dropping out, while faculty struggled to understand how to help?

The program, held at a small, private university geared towards adult learners, consistently met enrollment goals and remained the most competitive program that the college had to offer. Yet it still faced a historical 30 percent completion rate, driven in large part by low term-to-term retention rates of 56 percent.  

To improve student persistence, this program partnered with InsideTrack to provide a tailored coaching model rooted in our core methodology focusing on knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs. A year later, thanks to a combination of support, insights and close collaboration between our coaching team and program leaders, retention was up, and students were better prepared to succeed in the program and beyond.

More help than meets the eye

Our coaching team, which included a coach who worked directly with students and a manager who coordinated closely with program leaders, began by analyzing why these highly qualified candidates were not completing a credential — a credential that, in many cases, would offer promotions and compensation increases. It soon became clear that some of the most common risk factors we typically see  — academic preparedness, ability to pay for the credential, and weak or lacking motivation — may not have been the biggest obstacles for these students.

In fact, our team quickly realized that these students, many of whom had consistently succeeded in the past, were not used to struggling academically or professionally, and assumed they were the only ones experiencing setbacks.

Through consistent, proactive outreach, our team worked with students to identify specific challenges they were encountering: Was it the platform or the content?  Which school resources had they utilized? Had they reached out to their instructors? How were they managing priorities? Did they have support networks in place to promote motivation?  

It turned out that while each student shared unique challenges, in many cases they were hesitant to use the very student support services that had attracted them to the program and university to begin with. The professionals who had been successful outside of the classroom were the last to ask for help.

“Every person is different, but in our experience working with all kinds of students — of all ages and backgrounds — we’ve learned that those who actively seek out support services not only tend to be more connected to the college and program, but also to their fellow classmates and instructors,” said Bobbie Godbey, Operations Client Manager at InsideTrack.

Assistance that makes an immediate impact

Having collected specific, quantifiable trends, as well as real student stories, our coaching team partnered closely with academic advisors and faculty to reframe the way support services were presented to students.  

The team was then able to highlight faculty and staff members who went above and beyond —  those whom students said were both great resources and approachable. The department encouraged these internal “rockstars” to reach out directly to students at critical points in the term.  

Implementing changes based on these findings was an early and critical win for the coaching partnership. Sharing specific feedback and trends with the institution while sprinkling in student anecdotes established our ability to deliver actionable student-centered feedback.

Because the program was willing to be nimble, leverage their existing resources and revise their communication strategies, they achieved measurable improvements in student experience. One year into the coaching program, the institution experienced a 21 percent increase in year-over-year retention, from 56 percent to 68 percent.

“Early in our partnership we knew that the university was committed to student success,” Godbey recalled. “That level of student-centeredness combined with their openness to partnering allowed us to truly collaborate to improve the student experience.”

When we partner with an institution, we gain access to “insider” student feedback that faculty and academic advisors would not have otherwise. With these valuable insights into the student experience, our coaches are able to shed light on why students are succeeding or struggling, and can help institutions make timely improvements to student support. The end result is simple: the more that faculty and academic advisors know how to support their students, the more students stay in school and graduate.  

Please fill out the form below for access to our webinars.

Related Resources