"CLASS" is in Session- Coaching (At-Risk) Learners for Academic Student Success

Streamed Session HBCU Leadership

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Retaining At-Risk Students is a dilemma facing all higher-education institutions. This is especially challenging in on-line learning. Faculty can use a coaching approach to encourage At-Risk Students to not only remain in college, but to enhance their learning capabilities. In doing so, coaching builds social presence and fosters student success. 

Extended Abstract

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide College of Business launched a Coaching Program in 2018.  Since that date the Program continues to evolve with changes in resourcing, as well as demand.  The one constant has been the original intent – that is to provide a holistic educational experience and positively impact the academic journey. 

The focus of this interactive presentation is on identifying and implementing ways to not just keep At-Risk Students enrolled, but to enhance their student experience.  Scholarly literature suggests that student coaching may be one way to help students succeed in college. Students often require a “nudge” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008) to complete complex tasks and overcome challenges.  A coaching service is a mechanism capable of “nudging” students, especially those that are At-Risk, to reach their true potential.

According to Education Reform (2013, para 1), At-Risk Students in higher education involve learners who “are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school.”  Circumstances that hinder student success include both intrinsic personal and institutional, systematic challenges. In some cases, it can involve “learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retentions, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance and attainment of some students” (Education Reform, 2013, para 1).   

There is no shortage of reasons why there are At-Risk Students. Some of the more common factors can involve finance, not prepared for the rigors of college, family life, taking too many courses, and work requirements. While these and other reasons can contribute to a Student’s struggle in college, research shows elevated challenges in online courses.

Online courses can and do tend to be impersonal. Compared to traditional classroom modalities there are fewer interactions between Students and Faculty.  As Faculty we are often perplexed in trying to bring our personalities into an online course. The apparent lack of interactivity can be seen by some Students as not caring for them on the part of their instructors. And that is true in a number of cases.

To address the need to break down some of these barriers we have been exploring various methods to increase the social presence within online courses. The goal here is to make online courses feel more like in-person courses. While this could and should benefit the majority of Students, it can especially assist the At-Risk Students.

Faculty Engagement Strategies for Serving At-Risk Students

For the past few years, we have been addressing At-Risk Students in a multitude of ways, through outreach, coaching and the greater use of engagement activities.

The outreach effort begins with Faculty reviewing the Dashboard Data information on Students in the course to be taught.  The Dashboard Data contains each Student’s GPA, major, and the number of courses taken over the past two years. This is vital information for the instructor as it identifies Students who may either be At-Risk now or may become At-Risk.

While Faculty can utilize the Dashboard Data for all Students, there can be a focus on Students who need some special attention. The information from the Dashboard Data can be carried forward to our use of Zoom Introduction and Coaching Sessions with each Student at the beginning of each semester. Through end of course evaluations over 92% of students agreed or strongly agreed that these Zoom Introduction Sessions were effective in bridging the Student-Faculty interaction gap.

These Zoom Sessions offer confirmation that the Faculty is a “real person” (do not laugh, as some Students think robots are teaching them) and cares for their learning development. These Zoom Sessions have led to Students agreeing or strongly agreeing by 98.3% that there is a mutual climate of respect with their instructors. In addition, the caring aspect of the Zoom Sessions have led to a rating of 98% in Students believing that Faculty are interested in their academic progress.

Coaching (At-Risk) Learners for Academic Student Success

In early 2018 we began a Coaching Program, originally for graduate Students, but it soon expanded to undergraduate Students. In some courses coaching was optional, but in other courses it is a requirement, especially in the introductory courses for new Students.

A new coaching initiative serving a select group of At-Risk students was initiated in the May 2022 term. The objectives of the coaching effort are to determine whether coaching can help these students become successful in college and elevate the students’ perception of their college experience. The results of this initiative will be presented at the OLC Accelerate Conference in November 2022.

The information from the Dashboard Data is extremely helpful with the Coaching Sessions. The Students set the agendas for the Coaching Sessions. The 200-Level Students (mostly early in their college careers) tend to want to discuss what to expect from college. The differences between high school and college can be daunting. Some of these Students already are At-Risk. For example, some report having made the wrong choice in attending college or going back to college after a few years away. Coaching to At-Risk Students is invaluable here. Faculty can give a degree of guidance and virtual support to these Students. It can make the difference for an At-Risk Student staying in college or leaving.

From surveys, 90.6% of these Students agree or strongly agree that the Coaching Sessions have been effective.

  • I am providing feedback from our Zoom Coaching meeting this morning and enjoyed what we discussed.  I will apply your recommendation about taking the Leadership course and pursuing my PMP Program Management Professional. I will make the adjustments and correct the errors of mine in the course.  I will maintain those adjustments in the rest of my time with Embry Riddle and in the workforce.  



Given the overwhelmingly positive results of coaching, we aim to extend the service to student segments that are at higher risk of underperforming. 

As previously mentioned, to further understand the impact of coaching on the At-Risk student population, a targeted coaching effort is underway for the May 2022 term. For the purpose of this research effort, we intend to offer individual coaching services to students that have a GPA below a 2.6. Faculty coaches will be assigned to meet for periodically throughout the term with proposed meeting points at the beginning, mid-point and near the end of the May 2022 term.  At the conclusion of the May 2022 term, we will measure and evaluate the performance and satisfaction measures of the involved At-Risk students. Student feedback on their academic performance and course experience will be measured and through the end-of-course evaluation questioning and survey at the conclusion of the coaching.  While the sample size will not allow for generalizable outcomes, this preliminary research effort will provide anecdotal evidence from which to scale and conduct secondary research efforts.   

At-Risk Coaching and Student Success Results

NOTE: additional details will be added to the abstract following the observation period and reported during the 2022 OLC. 

We will report the results of the At-Risk coaching initiative to include whether or not there were positive outcomes within the At-Risk students that participated in coaching services. 

Following this pilot and an evaluation of the results, we hope to expand coaching services to other student segments deemed At-Risk, including but not limited to those that have not taken a course in greater than 6 months, and in jeopardy of dropping out.  It is our continued hope that this student success strategy will offer the support students


Student support services are an important part of the student experience, especially for students that may fall within an At-Risk category. The implementation of a student-oriented coaching program offers multiple benefits to include improving student relations and experience, delivering on a commitment to serve the “whole student”, and preparing students for successful careers. Administering coaching service to At-Risk students has the added benefit of potentially impacting academic performance, persistence, and retention. 


At-Risk definition. (2013). The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved from https://www.edglossary.org/at-risk/

Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Yale University Press.


Interactive Activities During Our Presentation:  

Here are some of the interactive activities we intend to use during our Presentation:

  • Questions and Answers
  • Role Playing
  • Situational Analysis