CONTACT: Gail Crutchfield, Communications & Marketing, Wallace State Community College, Hanceville, Ala., 256.352.8064, firstname.lastname@example.org
HANCEVILLE, Ala. – The first year of college can be intimidating. Freshmen students can feel like they’ve entered a deep, dark forest with no one around to guide them. Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala., is working to light the way for them.
Incoming freshmen in certain programs are essentially offered, free of charge, a life coach to help them through their first year as a college student. The PAVES (Partnership for Accelerated Learning through Visualization, Engagement, and Simulation) coaching program is an initiative aimed at keeping students in school, thereby improving their academic and employment outcomes.
The program is provided through a grant from the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program. Wallace State-Hanceville leads a consortium that includes Central Alabama Community College and Wallace State-Selma sharing the $9.5 million grant.
The college programs for which the PAVES resources are offered at Wallace State include several advanced manufacturing and allied health programs, plus two transportation programs and one public safety program.
The Advanced Manufacturing programs include: Electronics, Industrial Maintenance, Automotive Manufacturing, Automotive Service Technology, Welding, and three machining programs — Machine Tool Technology, Tool and Die, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC).
The Allied Health programs include: Registered Nurse, LPN, Nursing Aide/CNA, Pharmacy Tech, Medical Assistant, Dental Hygienist, Dental Assistant, EMT/Paramedic, Radiology (Diagnostic Imaging), Health Information Technology and Medical Coding/Transcriptionist.
The Diesel Mechanics and Commercial Driver’s License programs fall under the Transportation program and Criminal Justice under the Public Safety program.
Students fill out an application to participate, and all have the option to discontinue the program. Those accepting participation get 12 months of free coaching.
In its first term with coaching, Wallace State reported an increase in retention rates of its first-year students, with a 5.8 percent bump in the number of students returning in those programs.
The Goal of Coaching
The goal of the one-on-one “life coaching” or “success coaching” as the college calls it, is to help students balance the demands of college, work and family life. Coaches also help the students develop skills and habits needed for long-term success.
The coaches assigned to the students do not act as advisors to help them determine which classes they should take, but as motivators, resources and sounding boards to help them proactively work on any issues they wish to — or need to — address, be they related to school, career, or personal aspects of the their lives. Coaches are also not professional counselors or psychotherapists but do make referrals to appropriate professionals as needed.
In most cases, the coaches interact with the students by phone during conversations that last about 30 minutes. The calls can come as often as once a week or every other week, depending on the needs or preferences of the student. Coaches and students also interact by email and text message on occasion. All sessions are confidential and protected by FERPA.
During a coaching session, coaches tailor their communication to each student and adjust for the situation from which each student approaches the conversation to learn how the student is doing in regard to everything from financing their education to aspects of their personal life that may be impacting their education. From there, they will focus on one or two topics in which the student may need assistance or reinforcing positive elements of the student’s life to build momentum and further best practices.
Motivating the students to take action where it’s needed would be the next role of the coach, helping them frame questions for support personnel, urging them to register for a class, and brainstorming steps they may need to take to secure financing.
“Coaching isn’t one-size-fits-all,” said Kristen King, campus director for the PAVES Consortium.
Frequent calls are also not something every student needs. King said she had a student she coached who rarely answered her call for one reason or another. But she later heard from that student who told her that even though he didn’t answer the call, seeing her number motivated him to study.
“So there’s value added even when the student is not meeting with the coach, just to know that someone on campus cares that much,” King said.
Benefits of coaching compared to students who weren’t coached can be seen in comparing retention rates in a particular program.
Suzanne Harbin, WSCC Director of Advancement, said 100 percent of the coached students in the Licensed Practical Nurse program continued their education in the program, while those who opted out of coaching did not all continue.
“Are there other factors involved?” she asked. “Sure there are, but if you have 100 percent of our students who were coached and were retained, that says a lot.”
There were some students, Harbin added, who — though they weren’t retained in the program they started — did remain enrolled in college, entering a new program of study. Their decision to switch was due in part to the coaching process, where the student discovered the program they first entered wasn’t a good fit.
“And we count that as a win,” Harbin said, “because even though they’re no longer in the PAVES program, they’re still enrolled in college.”
The Student Perspective
Nursing student Stephanie Casey is one of the students who opted to participate in the PAVES program, and appreciates the support and guidance she received from her coach.
Casey, of Hanceville, started college again after more than a dozen years away. The 1998 Fairview High School graduate took one year of college courses right after high school intending to enter a nursing program. But she dropped out a year later to care for her sick mother.
She went on to marry and have children of her own before deciding to enroll in college again, quitting a well-paying management job to try to attain her dream of becoming a nurse.
Casey learned about the PAVES program during student orientation for the nursing program. She said she liked the idea of having a support system outside of her family that could help guide her and listen to her and give her honest feedback.
“Somebody who has a broader perspective,” she said. “They can give me insight on where I’m not seeing what I’m doing wrong, where they can hurt my feelings, versus my family, who won’t.”
Coaching, she said, allowed her to be able to discuss her strengths and weaknesses and learn how to use the former to her advantage and how to improve on the latter.
Casey said she tries to be optimistic when talking with her coach, but when she’s a little down her coach can tell and asks her what may be causing her uncharacteristic pessimism.
“That’s very important too,” Casey said of how her coach can tell when something is off. “Because that means they listen to me, they’re taking me seriously and makes me feel important because they take time out of their day to speak to me and listen to my problems.”
The Coach Perspective
Having such a close relationship with a student is one of the main goals for coaches, said King.
“The relationship is really important and founded on respect,” King said. “We are really active listeners and the greatest thing a coach can do is listen and follow up with the next question based on what we heard.”
Coaches, King said, are not there to monitor a student’s grades. They are there to help a student establish goals and figure out ways to meet them.
“We tell students ‘you will have someone there who will 100 percent support you and who wants you to reach your goals,’” King said. “We’re not going to hold your hand and we’re not there like your mom to check your grades.”
Executives, King said, pay thousands of dollars for the type of one-on-one coaching offered through the PAVES program, which can not only help a student meet goals related to their education, but can also help in their career.
“We’re going to work on professional development, helping you find the job you want,” King said. “You don’t have to take the first job you’re offered, you can find one that fits for you.”
Coaching also offers benefits to the college, aside from increased retention. As coaches talk with students, King said they will notice trends in their conversations in regards to how the college’s programs and services are perceived by students.
“We’re able to provide feedback on institutional effectiveness, relay trends, hear what the students are saying, peeking into that world so that the college can get better and better,” King said.
Casey said she would strongly recommend the PAVES program to other students, and encourages them to talk to their coach at least every other week.
“Don’t be bashful, let them know what’s on your mind,” she said. “They’re here to help you. They’re here to help Wallace State and the program, so any thing that we tell them can always improve.”
The grant for the PAVES program will conclude in about two years, but the long-term goal is for Wallace State to create a self-sustaining coaching center on campus and offer the service to incoming freshmen for many years to come.
For more information on the PAVES program, contact coordinator Christine Wiggins at 256.352.8462.
Nursing Class – Shekitha Sanders, right, of Bessemer listens during a lecture on insulin in Millie Carroll’s nursing class at Wallace State Community College. Also pictured are Stephanie Hollis, left, of Jasper, and Brandy Robinson of Dora.
Nursing Student – Wallace State nursing instructor Mille Carroll leads a discussion about insulin during a morning class at the college. Nursing students at WSCC are among those eligible to apply to participate in the PAVES program, which provides a full year of success coaching free of charge.
Director, Communications & Marketing
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
1-866-350-9722 256-352-8118 direct
256-352-8314 fax 256-339-2519 cell
Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu