Success coaches encourage GHC freshmen to complete degrees


Georgia Highlands College instituted a program last fall that it hopes will help its retention rate keep rising.The Student Success Coach Initiative was designed to help maintain and increase retention rates at the college — which saw an increase last fall over the 2014 fall semester — by offering one-on-one support for new students that encourages them to complete their two-year degrees at GHC.All 2015 first-time, full-time students with no prior college credit had the opportunity to be paired with a faculty or staff member who would act as their success coach for the year. “Our main goal is to be a cheerleader to encourage students to persist from semester to semester and progress from year to year and celebrate their successes,” said Crystal L. Edenfield, program manager for student advocacy and retention. “We want to provide a resource for all things GHC and support system.”The initiative came from the college’s student organization Brother 2 Brother, which has high retention rates among its members, according to a press release. B2B is part of the Georgia Highlands African-American and Minority Male Excellence initiative, which is part of the University System of Georgia’s statewide African-American Male Initiative.“Brother 2 Brother has achieved 75 to 80 percent retention rates over the years,” GHC President Dr. Don Green said in the release. “They are a great organization of young men who hold each other accountable for academic accomplishment. They have been named national chapter of the year three of the last four years. It’s a great student organization to model after.”Edenfield said the program has about 200 coaches working with 1,000 students, with each coach having a load of five students and advisory board members having 10 students each.Success coaches meet and communicate with their students several times throughout the year to make sure they aren’t having any issues with their classes, scheduling, time management, payment, tutoring or other areas.“There are four encouraged checkpoints for coaches to meet with students: first week of school, second week of school, midterm and finals,” Edenfield said. “Students can reach out to their success coaches at any time of the year.”The coaches work to help freshmen have a smooth first year of college that will lead toward a successful experience at GHC.“It’s great to see that even in a time when population and economic trends have created some challenges for state colleges, our faculty and staff are uniting to enhance what we do, expand recruitment efforts and implement a variety of initiatives intended to increase student retention,” Green said in the release.Executive Assistant Tammy Nicholson, who is coaching four assigned students and one informal student, said she wanted to participate in the initiative because “engagement with our students is the key reward of my responsibilities with GHC.”“I saw serving as a success coach as a prime opportunity for this engagement,” she said.She also said she thinks the program is important for helping first-time students transition smoothly into college.“I think the success coaches are going a long way to serve our freshmen students with the hurdles of learning college processes and entering a new stage of independence in their lives,” she said. “Regardless of whether a student opts to accept our offer, GHC cannot possibly go wrong in making our care for the student population known to them.”Nicholson said she has been in touch with all of her students in some way, but “each of my mentees had different levels of communication needs.”“I was able to meet face to face with three of my mentees during fall semester and had email communications with the other two,” she said. “I had only one or two visits with a couple of mentees and then several visits — in person, phone, email — with others. I left this up to each student after the initial communication was established.”What she does to help each one of them also is “unique to the student,” Nicholson said.“The first conversation was an introduction of me and this new initiative at GHC,” she said. “The conversations have ranged from answering basic questions — How do I change my major? — to more complex — How do I go about meeting an off-campus faculty advisor? While I certainly want the students to feel welcome and comfortable to visit any time, I feel it was important that they understand my objective to serve as their liaison to all the resources GHC has to offer for their success. Our success is mutual: the students’ and GHC’s.”