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By Sarah Lyman Kravits


Academic coaching has emerged, in part, from the growing body of research showing the value of student engagement. Driven largely by Vincent Tinto’s work, research has shown that the more engaged students are, both academically and socially, the more likely they are to persist in college (Tinto, 1998). One of the most significant factors in whether students feel engaged and have a sense of belonging is the level of connection to college personnel. The degree to which a student feels seen and cared about by faculty, administration, and staff informs how engaged that student feels, which affects student motivation to perform and persist. Coaching evolved in part out of a need to increase this student-personnel connection in the service of improving retention. Even with the more established roles of instructor, advisor, counselor, tutor, and peer mentor in place, cracks have emerged through which students can fall. One of the functions of academic coaching is to fill those cracks.


Coaching provides an opportunity for the student to define unique needs and receive targeted support in a one-on-one interaction format that supports engagement. To this point, Robinson (2015) notes that coaching may be seen as “’uniquely integrative’ of lacking elements of traditional roles” such as advising, mentoring, and counseling (p. 125). Studies support the benefits of coaching for students as well as institutions. Robinson and Gahagan (2010) found that coaching influenced academic success and persistence indirectly through deepening the connection between students and institution. Bettinger and Baker (2011) found that coaching improved persistence and retention and that retention and completion improvements held over time. They noted that the ameliorative effects of coaching on persistence and retention outweighed the benefits of other more costly interventions such as financial aid. A study examining coaching programs in 15 Ohio community colleges noted that more coaching meetings correlated with higher academic performance and found one-on-one meetings to be more effective than coaching over the phone (Pechac, 2017).


A recent comprehensive study looked at several years’ worth of data showing the effect of bi-weekly coaching sessions on students who had fallen below a 2.0 GPA the previous fall (Capstick, Harrell-Williams, Cockrum, & West, 2019). Study authors found that students who participated in the Academic Coaching for Excellence (ACE) program improved on multiple measures – they were more likely to earn a 2.0 or over in the spring semester, they had higher GPAs overall, and they were more likely to persist to the following year. As with Pechac’s work in Ohio, Capstick et al. found that more frequent sessions correlated with more significant academic success.


  • Bettinger, E. P., & Baker, R. B. (2014). The effects of student coaching: An evaluation of a randomized experiment in student advising. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(1), 3-19.
  • Capstick, M. K., Harrell-Williams, L. M., Cockrum, C. D., & West, S. L. (2019). Exploring the effectiveness of academic coaching for academically at-risk college students. Innovative Higher Education, 44, 219-231.
  • Pechac, S. (2017). Coaching toward completion: Academic/success coaching factors influencing student outcomes in 15 Ohio community colleges (Publication No. 11011263) [Doctoral dissertation, The University of Toledo]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  • Robinson, C. E. (2015). Academic/success coaching: A description of an emerging field in higher education (Publication No. 3704390) [Doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  • Robinson, C., & Gahagan, J. (2010). Coaching students to academic success and engagement on campus. About Campus, 15(4), 26-29.
  • Tinto, V. (1998). Colleges as communities: Taking research on student persistence seriously. Review of Higher Education, 21(2), 167-177
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