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A Look at Academic Success Coaching: Impact on the Adult Student

The EvoLLLution | A Look at Academic Success Coaching: Impact on the Adult Student
Academic coaching provides adult students with a great deal more support than advising can.

Innovation in higher education is ongoing and includes specific, defined interactions with adult students beyond the classroom. Specifically, the model for academic advising has changed, and yet vestiges of the old way have remained for more than 144 years. This legacy is to the detriment of the adults.

Advising has been present in higher education since 1870 when electives were introduced to university curricula. [1] The time has come to move away from the antiquated advising approach to a system of deliberate, strategic and coordinated coaching. According to the National Academic Advising Association (NACADA), academic advising is defined as, “when an institutional representative gives insight or direction to a college student about an academic, social, or personal matter.”[2] Academic advising is reactive, where all advising activities are triggered by some catalyst. Since advising is brought on by a stimulus, this partnership is infrequent and inconsistent. Research has shown that, for an adult student, this model alone is ineffective and does not promote retention, persistence or graduation. [3, 4]

The Adult Student

According to the Lumina Foundation, in 2012, 36,439,822 (22.01 percent) Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 attempted some college but did not earn a degree.[5] What makes the adult student different from traditional students? According to Ross-Gordon the current adult student lacks a standard high school diploma, works full time while attending college, attends college part time, is financially independent, has dependents, and/or is a single parent. [6] Kasworm, Polson, and Fishback add that adult students are more likely to be first-generation college students, and are more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.[7] The research indicates that adult students are underprepared to re-enter higher education and that adults look for convenience in educational programs (i.e. online or evening classes). This research is evidence that adults need additional attention to guide them through their academic journey. The adult student needs to build confidence, and the Academic Success Coach can help them manage the daily juggle of responsibilities and continue to thrive and grow within their personal, professional and academic journeys.

Coaching in Action

As mentioned above, advising is a reactive response to a catalyst. While this practice works in some cases (emergencies), this process is ineffective when working with adult students. Academic coaching provides proactive, consistent and frequent contact with these students. The coaching process builds the relationship between the student and the institution to provide a sense of belonging to a student that has historically been perceived as self-supporting. This myth has hindered adult student completion through lack of inclusion and services. While advising is necessary in some situations, coaching is required in all proactive contact. Whether ensuring students understand how to use the electronic services through detailed hands-on review or helping themdevelop goals and action plans with regard to degree completion and career planning, the coach helps the student evaluate how the decisions they make now affect their future goals. The outside influences that affect a student can range from project deadlines at work, to children’s events and family emergencies. An email to drop a class is not proof that the student is lazy but instead an insight into a bigger, deeper problem. In order to guide the student through the obstacle the coach needs to identify the full scope of the issue through motivational interviewing and proactive advising. Good coaches realize that they may need to refer clients to other resources for services the coach cannot, or should not, be providing.[8]

Through these methods coaches help the student take ownership of their actions through action plan development and resource referrals when appropriate. Coaching allows the student to feel confident to express themselves but also take an active role in their educational journey, and it provides the tools and skills that students can take into their professional and personal lives. Coaching is the cumulative processes of proactive communication, meaningful dialogue, problem solving, strategic planning, follow-up, and continual real-time revision of a student’s plans and goals.

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[1] Gordon, V.N., Habley, W.R., Grites, T.J. (2008). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook. San Francisco CA. Jossey-Bass Publishing.

[2] NACADA. (2003). Paper presented to the Task force on defining academic advising. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

[3] Lee, L. (2014). Principles of Teaching the Adult Learner. Retrieved 08/27/2014 from

[4] Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F. & Swanson, R.A. (2012). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th Ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.

[5] Lumina Foundation. (2013). Closing the Gaps in College Attainment. A stronger Nation through Higher Education. Retrieved from

[6] Ross-Gordon, J. (2011, Winter). Research on Adult Learners: Suporting the Needs of a Student Population that is no Longer Non-Traditional. National Center for Education Statistics Peer Review, 10(1), 26-29. Retrieved from

[7] Kasworm, C., Polson, C. & Fishback, S.J. (2002). Responding to Adult Students in Higher Education. Malabar, Fl. Krieger Publishing Company.

[8] Averill, M.B. & Hutchinson, H. (2014). How to become an Academic Coach: What you need to know. Charleston, SC and Eugene, OR.

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