Carolina Works / First in the World

First in the World

At a Glance

Child care, job responsibilities, transportation problems—community college students face all kinds of barriers to staying in school. In North Carolina, one-on-one success coaches are making the difference.





Areas of Work
  • Ensuring Equity in Advancement
Expert Involved
In progress
  • NC

JFF provides strategic guidance on the implementation of success coaching, including developing project plans, designing technical assistance, facilitating access to national experts, and identifying resources for colleges and coaches. JFF supports colleges in developing sustainability plans and works with project leadership to scale success coaching beyond the 10 colleges. JFF also helps amplify project learnings through its national networks.


The Carolina Works Study aims to increase student persistence across 10 North Carolina community colleges. This rigorous study is evaluating whether data-informed proactive success coaching has a positive and significant impact on students' retention and credential completion rates.

Carolina Works is funded through a First in the World (FITW) grant, a Department of Education program managed through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). FITW aims to support, develop, test, and replicate innovative solutions to address persistence and other challenges affecting student outcomes. The Carolina Works Validation Study, led by Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), is one of only two validation grants awarded in 2015 by the Department of Education’s FITW Program.


  • Validate success coaching as an effective intervention for retention and credential completion
  • Identify best practice characteristics of success coaching for adaptation by other colleges statewide and nationally
  • Through a return on investment analysis, demonstrate that success coaching is a sustainable practice


success coaches help community college students achieve their goals

Learn more

Each college has hired at least one dedicated, professional success coach to work with students in the treatment group. Coaches use predictive analytics, early alerts, and other student data to proactively connect with students and address barriers to success, through Aviso’s advising and retention software.

Success Coaches

  • Proactively reach out to students
  • Empower students to choose the right path toward success
  • Serve as the relationship manager between the student and the institution
  • Use student data to identify and neutralize obstacles and challenges
  • Help students set goals, manage their time, and negotiate life challenges related to work and family—not just school


Proactive success coaching has been proven in other contexts to remove academic barriers leading to increases in persistence and completion rates (Bettinger & Baker, 2014). Since 2016, the Carolina Works project has worked to validate these findings, examining whether or not success coaching has a positive and significant impact on community college students' retention and credential completion rates compared to the "business as usual" condition. Carolina Works is gathering evidence through a randomized controlled trial (RCT), meeting the What Works Clearinghouse standard—without reservations—with the final results available in 2020. Approximately 15,000 students from 10 North Carolina community colleges are involved in this study. Key outcomes that are being measured are first- to second-semester retention, third-term retention, and credential completion between 2016 and 2020 (duration of study period).