It's All About the People

August 30, 2022 Watermark Insights

To achieve student success and promote educational equity, there are many important things to consider. Learning institutions are wise to focus on the whole student when working toward student success, meaning not only what academic challenges students experience, but also what they face outside of school. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the most important tool in promoting student success that learning institutions have to offer is their people. Student retention and persistence begins and ends with having the right people in the right jobs. In the realm of student success, that means student success coaches, mentors, and directors of student achievement programs.

Student success coaching gives students a personalized advising experience throughout their time at the institution. For success coaching to be meaningful and impactful, it is essential that higher education and technical education institutions hire the right people.

Finding the Right People

Jim Collins, author of the book Good to Great, likens finding the right people for the job to getting “the right people on the bus.” Collins states, “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus. They always think first about who and then about what. When facing chaos and uncertainty, and you cannot possibly predict what's coming around the corner, your best "strategy" is to have a busload of people who can adapt to and perform brilliantly no matter what comes next. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

This is especially true for student success coaches and mentors who will need to adapt to each student’s individual needs.

Student Success Coaches

The best success coaches, no matter their background, have a couple of things in common: they are experienced in building meaningful one-on-one relationships, they know how to navigate the learning institution, and they can make the right connections for the student in the local community that the student may not necessarily make on their own.

For example, some students find it easy to communicate with professors and fellow students, others do not. The right success coach can act as a liaison between the student and the learning community, helping them to develop the skills and confidence necessary to ultimately make those connections on their own. In this case, that may mean coaching students on how to best communicate with their professors virtually, or it may mean helping students learn how to effectively communicate through writing emails.

By utilizing a holistic and proactive approach to advising, success coaches support not just the student, but instead the person and their unique situation. Challenges outside of school can often derail a student’s success, causing them to fall behind academically or to become detached from their educational community and commitment. Hurdles, such as a lack of time management skills, academic preparation, and financial challenges, require individualized solutions. Success coaches provide students with a single point of contact who can connect them with both institutional and community resources, such as financial aid services, housing, food pantry, transportation, child care, technology, and broadband internet access. A success coach is responsible for supplying their students with the guidance, support, and direction needed to be successful throughout their academic journey.

The Hiring Process

So, how do higher ed and tech ed institutions go about hiring the right people? In a Forbes article about hiring the right talent, Jim Blackburn of SURVE Partners is quoted as saying, “We believe that focusing on who the candidate is versus what the candidate has accomplished is more important in hiring the right person. It requires adopting a very counterintuitive recruiting approach.”

When seeking to hire the right people, learning institutions first and foremost need to have a clearly defined set of values and goals. As an example, the learning institutions who have partnered with Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) have a goal of serving the most underrepresented and underserved students in their communities including first-gen, low-income, and +20% minority enrollment. This provides a jumping-off point for human resources managers who seek like-minded candidates with the talent to achieve these goals.

Finding the right people for an institution is not a task to be underestimated. It likely will take time to hire the right people, and that’s okay. Rushing to make a hiring decision risks the consequence of bringing on board candidates who may not fit the institution’s desired qualifications and ultimately they may lose ground in meeting their student success and equity goals.

As part of the hiring process, learning institutions will want to learn about the candidates’ talents and experiences that make them qualified to be part of the team. When interviewing candidates, experts recommend thinking outside the box of standard interview techniques and questions.

Hiring experts also advise to be creative in interviewing. Job candidates will be prepared for the standard interview questions. Being creative with interview questions will allow hiring managers to observe how candidates think on their feet and will give insight into what makes them tick.

Additionally, asking candidates about their own life experiences can help to determine what talents they may have that aren’t obvious on a résumé. Life experience that aligns with today’s college students is especially important for student success coaches and mentors, where it is a useful and necessary skill to be able to identify and/or empathize with what the students are experiencing.

By having a clearly defined mission and set of goals, learning institutions are able to help identify what kind of candidates will best serve the needs of their students. The right people work hard to reach the goals of the institution and their programs, which shows via their commitment to their students and student achievement. This dedication goes a long way in helping to reach desired student equity goals and academic achievement.

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