JFF Invests in Coaching to Help Colleges and States Carry Out Systemic Change

A new initiative includes training new coaches and $100,000 grants to five Student Success Centers.

By Amy Girardi

Colleges are complex systems. Implementing guided pathways touches every part of these systems and, more importantly, requires integrating change across them. 

This undertaking is challenging and often messy. It requires rethinking longstanding policies, addressing ineffective practices, and sustaining momentum for change throughout a decade of work. It also requires a significant amount of help. A new coaching initiative from JFF will build colleges’ capacity to enact much needed changes. 


Remodeling Systems Is a Team Effort

Coaches assist colleges in understanding and managing the big-picture aspects of implementing guided pathways. They focus on a range of issues, including how changes in one part of an institution affect other elements of the system, how to effectively engage stakeholders, and how to keep students at the center of everything the college does.

It is well-known that colleges’ need for institutional coaching outstrips the field’s supply of qualified coaches. JFF’s new initiative will respond to this demand, as well as the need for more research and design in coaching models, by training a new cadre of coaches and providing grants to five centers in the Student Success Center Network (SSCN).

JFF's Student Success Center Network

Learn about the Centers

This initiative was spawned out of lessons learned from earlier SSCN work, particularly 10 pilot projects that grew out of small 2017 grants awarded to Student Success Centers. We learned three major points when reflecting on the results of these pilots:

  • Support matters. Centers that took advantage of both technical assistance and financial resources got more traction with their projects. 
  • Timing matters. As helpful as technical assistance can be, it must be offered when a Center has had sufficient time for relevant pre-work. So, assessing readiness should be part of the services model.
  • Structure matters. It’s our job to provide a framework that helps Centers move forward coherently and take advantage of service synergies. We must provide this framework, just as Centers provide structure to their states and colleges. 


JFF’s New Initiative Aims to Produce More Coaches 

In October 2018, JFF launched the SSCN Guided Pathways Coaching Training Program.  Partnering with Achieving the Dream and others in the Pathways Collaborative, this yearlong program will increase institutional coaching capacity in states with Student Success Centers. JFF is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch this initiative.

In general, three people from every Center in the network are participating in the training. Centers in larger states, such as California, have up to six participants. This state-by-state focus is critical because coaches are most effective when they’re well-versed in the policy specifics and political climate of the states where they operate.  They also have the relationships or political capital needed to effect institutional change.

The program began in the fall of 2018 and will last for about a year. It offers virtual learning events and other interactive activities, providing training and a community of practice around coaching.

2017 Pilot Programs

The plan for the coaching initiative grew out of lessons JFF learned from 10 small 2017 pilot programs. Ten Centers received $20,000 to $25,000 for activities they chose to pursue. While the grants led to a wide range of activities, more than half of them included institutional coaching for member colleges.

Examples of 2017 pilot grants used to develop coaching models include:

The New Jersey Center for Student Success developed a coaching program that focuses on guided pathways and college readiness. The Center recruited coaches and established a process for matching coaches with colleges. Coaches help colleges address a range of issues, including advising, course redesign, program mapping, and career planning.

New Jersey Center for Student Success

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The North Carolina Student Success Center created Networked Improvement Communities (NICs) to foster cross-campus learning. Each of the 17 colleges in the state’s first guided pathways cohort has an NIC facilitator, a practitioner located within the college whose roles include coaching, advising, organizing, and catalyzing change. A group of these facilitators will participate in the State-by-State Coach training described below, and those trained coaches will share their learnings with the other NIC facilitators in the state.

North Carolina Student Success Center

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The Oregon Student Success Center identified five colleges to be part of the state’s first cohort implementing guided pathways. The Center’s coaching model includes a lead coach (a former Oregon community college executive leader) who is paired with a senior campus leader. The campus leader has deep knowledge of guided pathways through her institution’s prior participation in the AACC’s Pathways Initiative. The pair work together visiting colleges and providing support by phone.

Oregon Student Success Center

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Lessons Learned from the Network Coaching Pilot

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