Emsi Case Study (See Full Archive)
Three years ago, Hostos Community College in Bronx, New York, faced the all too common challenge of confused students struggling to complete their degrees. With an average of 1,200 new students each fall and an advisement system that was far from rigorous, too many students lacked direction. “They were getting lost in the shuffle,” said Angela Rios, who has worked at the college for two years. “They weren’t getting the level of service they needed in order to progress to the next step.” And located as it is in the poorest congressional district in the US, Hostos didn’t have an abundance of advisement resources to spend either.
That’s when then president Félix V. Matos Rodríguez came up with a bold solution: a success center designed to monitor students from registration to graduation, counseling them on realistic goals and mapping clear paths to those goals. And so the Student Success Coaching Unit was born.
“We wanted to have a one-stop success center where students could receive the services they needed,” said Rios, director of SSCU since spring 2013. “We wanted to offer holistic, wrap-around services that would help students outline what they wanted to achieve in their experience here at Hostos.”
Coaching Unit Helps Hostos Double Retention, Graduation Rates
Launched in the fall of 2012, SSCU assigned success coaches to every freshman who wasn’t part of a specialized program, and together, coaches and students worked on academic planning, financial planning, and setting goals for career development—a process that utilizes Emsi’s Career Coach.
The program immediately blossomed. Recently mentioned on Planet Money in a podcast on community college and student success, Hostos’ innovative coaching unit has helped the college double its retention and graduation rates in a mere few years—a tremendous victory that helped put Hostos among the 10 finalists for the prestigious 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
Now, SSCU’s cohorts contain 800-1,000 incoming students in the fall and 600-800 in the spring. No matter the size, the cohorts operate the same: Four or five coaches assume caseloads of 200-250 students (each) and work with those students throughout their education and training. “That’s the really nice part of this model,” Rios said. “There’s no separation from the relationships the students cultivated from the beginning; someone is giving them focused attention to ensure that they’re advancing in the ways they need in order to accomplish their goals.”
SSCU sees solid, voluntary participation from the student body, with the average student meeting their coach twice a semester. And given how much the counseling has boosted student success, Rios said the college is considering making the meetings mandatory with a minimum of three per semester, though no requirements have been made as yet.
Success Looks Different for Different Students
One of the reasons SSCU has worked so well is that it operates on the premise that success looks different for different people, and that each students needs to personally own their degree and career goals. “Our motto is ‘We want to be part of your success,’” Rios said, “and in order for us to be a part of it, students have to identify what success is. We really embrace empowering students, letting them know that they’re the ones in the driver’s seat. They’re making the decisions. They’re making the choices. We’re not telling them, ‘This is what you’re going to do,’ they’re coming in and we’re asking them: ‘What are your thoughts? How are your progressing? How are you taking advantage of these services?’”
“We use Career Coach to help students get a better sense of what’s out there and, of the options that pique their interest, which will be fruitful for them.”—Angela Rios, Hostos Community College
SSCU also recently began using Career Coach at the outset to assist freshmen in discovering viable careers that match their skillsets, as well as plotting a course through college and into the workforce. “We have a fair amount of students who come in requesting majors that don’t match their skillsets,” Rios said. “Their strengths are not in sync with that kind of career path. Someone told them, ‘Oh, you’ll make a lot of money if you do X, Y, Z,’ and so they wind up majoring in engineering—and they’re in the lowest level of math remediation. We use Career Coach to help students get a better sense of what’s out there and, of the options that pique their interest, which will be fruitful for them.”
From top to bottom, the Student Success Coaching Unit is an inspiring model for any community college helping students select the education that will spur them on— either to further education or straight into the labor market. The key lies in having a strategy that doesn’t beat about the bush and isn’t afraid of dedicating time and resources towards helping students when and how they need it: fixing up a game plan as soon as they’re in the door.