By Kandace Gilligan

Institutions that enroll significant numbers of part-time and adult students know all too well the challenge of trying to measure student success rates. Since the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)—the main federal database of institution-level information—includes only first-time, full-time students, it is difficult to generate meaningful data for nontraditional students.Worse yet, there is ample evidence to suggest that the education outcomes of these uncounted students are quite poor. According to a report released by Complete College America earlier in September, in which data was collected from 33 states, fewer than a quarter of part-time students attain their target credential (certificate, associate, or bachelor’s) even when afforded twice the normal time. Also, they found that the average student at all levels takes significantly more credits than are required to earn the credential. While it may be common knowledge that part-time students take longer than full-time students to graduate and may be less likely to complete a program due to financial constraints and family obligations, the report shows that the discrepancy between the two are quite worrisome. With this in mind, the question is what can be done to help these students succeed?

In recent years, two- and four-year institutions have turned to various strategies to improve retention and completion rates. One of which is incorporating personalized coaches into their programs. Some UPCEA members, including Excelsior, Penn State World Campus, Columbia University School of Continuing Education, and Brandman University, have turned to InsideTrack, a student coaching firm, to help improve their adult student success rates.

According to another independent study released this past March, data show that students who received coaching were much more likely to stay enrolled and graduate than students who did not receive help. And more significantly, the study indicated that one-on-one coaching was cost-effective. The study, conducted by Eric Bettigner, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Education, and Rachel Baker, a Stanford doctoral student, involved reviewing the academic records of nearly 14,000 students from eight postsecondary institutions that use InsideTrack. The researchers compared randomly selected, demographically balanced groups of coached vs. non-coached students, and found a 10- to 15-percent increase in retention and graduation rates among those in the coached group.

Seeing how these services benefit the professional, continuing, and online communities, UPCEA has partnered with InsideTrack to provide support to members through the Association’s Center for Research and Consulting. UPCEA CEO Bob Hansen believes the partnership is a logical step, as college and university leaders work to meet the shared goal of improving student outcomes.
“UPCEA takes very seriously its responsibility as an important resource to colleges and universities serving nontraditional learners. That is why we launched our Center for Research and Consulting, and why we partnered with InsideTrack,” said Hansen.

For more than 10 years, InsideTrack has partnered with universities to provide one-on-one coaching programs that help student be more successful in school and graduate prepared for career success. InsideTrack’s coaching program not only increases graduation rates, but also generates valuable data on the factors affecting student success that institutions, policy makers, and others can use to enhance the educational system.

UPCEA and InsideTrack will conduct a unique benchmark survey of UPCEA member institutions on their initiatives to measure and enhance adult student success. In addition, they will publish a joint report, co-host a free webinar on the findings, and partner on consulting engagements to assist CRC members with the assessment and improvement of student outcomes.
“The bottom line is to provide another tool for our members to create better learning outcomes for their students, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Hansen. “InsideTrack’s leadership understands this. They run a well-respected, mission-driven organization.”

Co-founded in 2001 by Alan Tripp and Kai Drekmeier, InsideTrack has conducted more than 55 controlled studies with its partner universities, proving the effectiveness of its coaching program retention.
“We are honored to begin working in close partnership with UPCEA after many years of active support for the Association’s mission and service to its membership,” said InsideTrack’s Drekmeier. “Our collaboration with the CRC will provide many exciting opportunities to identify how we can increase graduation rates for working adults.”

Partnering with like-minded organizations is a way for the Association to better provide services to its members. “Advancing the field of professional and continuing education is a collaborative endeavor,” says James Shaeffer, Associate Vice President for Outreach and Engagement at James Madison University, and current UPCEA President. “That is why UPCEA is bringing together key stakeholders from academia, industry, government, and elsewhere to conduct research, promote best practices, and drive successful outcomes across adult higher education.”

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