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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Colleges buy in to personal coaching

Associated Press

BOSTON Heather Parsons was juggling a full-time job and family life on top of her classes at Northeastern University. On top of that, a school project was in jeopardy because her team wasn't working well together anxiety she just didn't need.

Time to consult her personal coach, Chris Tilghman.

"It was so easy, taking a step back from the emotions surrounding the issue," said Parsons, whose coach used his weekly phone session with Parsons to make a variety of suggestions for getting the group back on track. "Hearing a third person made all the difference."

The best part: Northeastern picked up the tab.

"I told him, 'You're cheaper than therapy,' " Parsons laughed. "He said, 'I get that a lot.' "

Long reserved for pro athletes and corporate execs, personal coaches are being offered by some colleges to help students set goals and manage time.

It sounds like the kind of college concierge service one would expect to find at exclusive, upper-crust schools. But in fact, the 15 or so schools that have hired a coaching company called Inside Track don't fit that description at all. Several including a number of for-profits cater to older students trying to balance the demands of work, school and family. Others serve traditional-age college students who may need help making the transition from high school.

The coaches talk to students about setting goals and respond to anything that might be getting in the way of pursuing their degree, from financial issues to personality conflicts. Following a pilot program last year, Northeastern will offer weekly phone coaching sessions to new adult-education students this year.

Our Lady of the Lake College, a small Roman Catholic school in San Antonio, is offering in-person coaching free to freshmen this year, under a grant from AT&T.

What the schools most want from the service is to improve graduation rates. Barely 60 percent of students who enter four-year colleges earn a degree from that school within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Colleges historically have blamed students' weak effort or poor preparation. But increasingly, colleges are recognizing that a mix of factors makes students leave school from money to family problems to lack of mentoring.

There is a catch and it's a big one: The coaching service is labor-intensive and expensive. For schools paying from their own pocket, the cost averages about $1,000 per student for a year of weekly sessions in person or by phone.

But participating colleges hope the extra help will pay for itself by keeping students in school, and paying tuition.

Inside Track says pilot programs have boosted retention 25 percent or more, saving schools $3 for every $1 they spend.