Student Support: The Personal Touch

As colleges scramble to attract and retain students, some institutions have started to improve their approach to student support by casting aside the more traditional, bureaucratic method and move toward the more innovative, personalized approach. Each offers a unique way of interacting with and assisting students, but they have markedly different impacts on student outcomes.

The Traditional, Bureaucratic Approach

Traditionally, student support in colleges and universities has been largely bureaucratic. Students are often required to navigate a series of standardized processes and procedures, with support services being generally one-size-fits-all. Interactions with advisors are infrequent, often limited to scheduled appointments, and the advisors themselves may handle large caseloads, reducing their capacity to provide individualized attention.

This approach is typically reactive rather than proactive, addressing issues only as and when students seek help. Consequently, students who do not actively seek assistance may fall through the cracks. Furthermore, different support services such as academic advising, financial aid, and career counseling are usually siloed, forcing students to navigate multiple offices and departments to get comprehensive support.

The Personalized Approach

In contrast, a personalized approach to student support offers a vastly improved experience. Under this model, services are tailored to meet the unique needs of each student, with advisors and coaches developing individualized plans based on each student’s academic and personal circumstances.

Students have regular, ongoing interactions with advisors or coaches, allowing for relationship-building and more personalized attention. Furthermore, this approach is proactive, with advisors and coaches reaching out to students to offer support, identify potential issues early, and implement early interventions to prevent problems from escalating.

Finally, support services under this model are coordinated and integrated, providing a holistic support structure for students. Students receive comprehensive support from a single point of contact who can connect them with various resources.

The Athletics Model

College athletics provides a great window into the potential for more personalized student support.

In collegiate athletics, the relationship between coach and athlete begins from the moment of recruitment and extends until graduation. Coaches often meet prospective athletes in their homes, initiating a relationship not only with the young athletes but also with their parents. This level of involvement continues throughout the student-athlete’s collegiate career, with coaches providing constant guidance, motivation, and support. The bond between coach and athlete often evolves into a close, nurturing relationship, especially beneficial for first-generation college students or those who struggled academically in high school.

This personalized approach in athletics correlates with higher college completion rates and GPAs among student-athletes.

  • According to a study conducted by the NCAA, the graduation success rate (GSR) for student-athletes was 88% in 2019, compared to the federal graduation rate of 68% for all students (NCAA, 2019). This eight-point difference indicates that student-athletes, under the athletic model of personalized support, have a significantly higher likelihood of college completion.
  • Student-athletes often outperform their non-athlete counterparts academically. The NCAA (2018) reported that the average GPA of Division I student-athletes was 2.94, with 20 sports having an average GPA above 3.0. This data suggests that the personalized support provided by the athletic model can contribute to higher academic achievement.

The success of student-athletes under the athletics model demonstrates the power of personalized support in higher education. This model is particularly effective for first-generation college students and those who were not strong academically in high school, who may benefit significantly from the constant guidance, motivation, and support provided by a dedicated coach.

The Results

Research indicates that personalized coaching and advising can significantly improve college retention and completion rates. Various studies support this assertion, focusing on the impact on minority and low-income students, and highlight successful programs.

Retention and Persistence.  Personalized coaching positively influences student retention rates. Bettinger and Baker (2011) found that students who received coaching were more likely to remain enrolled and progress toward graduation, with a reported 4% increase in retention. Additionally, the American Institutes for Research (2014) reported that students engaged with a success coach experienced a 6% increase in fall-to-fall retention and an 8% increase in fall-to-spring retention.

Credential Completion.  Personalized coaching also improves credential completion rates. Scrivener and Weiss (2009) demonstrated that students who worked with the same success coach throughout their college experience were 12% more likely to complete a credential. The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) found that success coaching, supported by institutional commitment, resulted in a 9% increase in credential completion.

Impact on Minority Students. Minority students benefit significantly from personalized coaching. According to the Community College Research Center (2014), Black students who received success coaching were 8% more likely to remain enrolled after one year and 18% more likely after two years. Data-driven, personalized advising at various institutions has led to more than doubling the number of degrees awarded to low-income and minority students.

Comprehensive Support Programs. Comprehensive support programs that include coaching, mentoring, and financial guidance have shown substantial improvements in student outcomes.

  • The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (CUNY ASAP) nearly doubled completion rates, with participants 94% more likely to remain enrolled and 75% more likely to earn an associate degree (Scrivener et al., 2015).
  • Project QUEST, another comprehensive support program, led to a 20% increase in annual earnings after nine years (Roder & Elliott, 2014).
  • Georgia State University has significantly increased its graduation rates through data-driven, personalized advising. By implementing a system that tracks student progress and provides timely interventions, the university has increased its graduation rate by over 35% (Renick, 2015).
  • Tallahassee Community College restructured its advising model to include individualized academic plans and proactive outreach, resulting in a 3.4% increase in fall-to-spring retention (Tallahassee Community College, 2016).


The evidence supports that personalized coaching and advising improve college retention and completion rates. These interventions are particularly beneficial for minority and low-income students, helping close achievement gaps and promote equity in higher education. Successful programs like CUNY ASAP and Project QUEST, along with institutional efforts at Georgia State University and Tallahassee Community College, provide effective models for implementing personalized support. Colleges and universities aiming to improve student outcomes should consider adopting personalized coaching and advising practices.


  • Bettinger, E., & Baker, R. (2011). The effects of student coaching in college: An evaluation of a randomized experiment in student mentoring. NBER Working Paper No. 16881.
  • American Institutes for Research (2014). The coaching revolution: New evidence that coaching can drive success in college.
  • Scrivener, S., & Weiss, M. J. (2009). More Graduates: Two-Year Results from an Evaluation of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students. MDRC.
  • Community College Research Center (2014). Can improved student services boost community college student success?
  • Scrivener, S., et al. (2015). Doubling Graduation Rates: Three-Year Effects of CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) for Developmental Education Students. MDRC.
  • Roder, A., & Elliott, M. (2014). A promising start: Year Up’s initial impacts on low-income young adults’ careers. Economic Mobility Corporation.
  • Renick, T. (2015). Georgia State University’s efforts to improve retention and graduation rates. Georgia State University.
  • Tallahassee Community College (2016). Annual Report on Retention and Graduation.

Student Support: The Personal Touch – by Robin Capehart (

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