In New York, community colleges seeking to bolster student success and center educational equity need not go it alone. Thanks to grants from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and its partners, institutions can work with the New York State Student Success Coaching Academy for professional development and training of college leaders to help students succeed and support campuses in implementing transformational change.
Based on a national training program for coaches created by JFF and Achieving the Dream, the Coaching Academy is a statewide program grounded in the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Guided Pathways Project, which promotes structured programs and extensive advising to support student completion of a degree or credential. Housed within New York State’s Student Success Center, which is hosted by the State University of New York (SUNY) System, the Coaching Academy launched in 2019 with a cohort of 19 college leaders in various campus roles, ranging from administration to faculty. A second cohort of 14 leaders is currently in the Coaching Academy, and a third cohort is planned for next spring.
“This is not only an effort to improve student success overall,” said Andrea Wade, provost and vice president for academic services at Monroe Community College, who serves on the Coaching Academy’s leadership team. “It’s explicitly about equity and about reducing some gaps” among students of color, first-generation students and those eligible for financial aid.
A coaching curriculum
The Coaching Academy is a six-month program that runs from January to June, with participants engaging in learning that has become fully remote since the pandemic. Instruction includes eight synchronous peer learning sessions via Zoom and six asynchronous peer learning modules in Blackboard.
Participants, referred to as coaches, meet virtually each month in groups with their instructors and mentor coaches, who come from a range of state institutions, to practice coaching skills and discuss coaching scenarios. Participants also agree to become peer mentor coaches with another college or facilitate a workshop or institute for SUNY or the Student Success Center.
So that college leaders understand crucial aspects of ensuring student success, the syllabus includes AACC’s Pathways Coaching Guide and a video presentation “Beginning with the End in Mind” by Michael Baston, president of Rockland Community College and chair of the Coaching Academy’s leadership team. Modules focus on such topics as equity-minded coaching, using data in coaching, coaching communication strategies, mindfulness in coaching and developing your coaching approach. Coaches typically devote two to four hours engaging in the program each month.
To assess and evaluate their learning, participants take pre, midpoint and post program surveys, and they keep a coaching reflection journal. They ultimately gain an understanding of how organizational coaching can support student success, learn effective coaching skills to support project management, and develop thoughtful and intentional approaches for engaging with their coaching projects.
Once they complete the program, coaches receive a professional development certificate, and they may be asked to support institutions with their coaching skills, for which they are typically paid an honorarium. Such coaching can be for long-term projects focused on guided pathways, supporting developmental education and helping institutions implement multiple measures placements so students can enroll in credit-bearing courses. Coaching assignments may also include shorter engagements, such as stand-alone workshops or institutes.
To apply for the program, coaches must:
- Have at least five years of experience in higher education.
- Have a master’s or a terminal degree or 10 years of professional experience.
- Work at or recently retired from a SUNY, City University of New York or JFF Student Success Center Network State Institution.
- Complete a program application, provide their CV and submit a letter of support from their college president, provost or vice president.
“We wanted them to be well established professionally because they have to deal with a wide range of individuals at the colleges where they coach,” Wade said.
A trustworthy partner
Jennifer Miller, executive director of the New York State Student Success Center and SUNY assistant vice chancellor for community colleges, who also serves on the Coaching Academy leadership team, emphasized that the coach is not a consultant.
“It’s someone who can ask powerful questions” and be a trustworthy partner in facilitating discussions, she said. A coach, she added, simply helps college leaders surface their own solutions to challenges around ensuring student success and educational equity.
Miller said the academy seeks to enroll candidates who are credible, trustworthy and have strong interpersonal skills. They are also team players and subject matter experts who are committed to equity, diversity and inclusion. The leadership team makes it a point to select coaches from a diversity of backgrounds, demographics and institutions of varying size.
Testimonials from past participants, like Susan L. Rogers, speak to the strength of the program, which Miller and Wade will discuss in depth on May 20, during their AACC Digital conference session, “Build Capacity for Transformation through Institutional Coaching.” Rogers, associate dean of academic affairs at Dutchess Community College, learned a great deal as part of the first Coaching Academy cohort.
“This was a fantastic and worthwhile experience,” she wrote in one such testimonial. “In addition to the knowledge and skills gained, it was nourishing to spend time with a group of like-minded professionals who want to see positive change happen on our campuses!”