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Life Coaching: Helping Students Help Themselves

Life Coaching: Helping Students Help Themselves

By Jeffrey Pittman, Kyle Graham, and Adam Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous global impact, forcing people and all types of organizations to adapt quickly to a new reality. Higher education institutions and students not comfortable with online learning were thrust into new and challenging teaching and learning environments. As a result, student affairs professionals have contended with an influx of issues requiring implementation of creative and enhanced student support and retention strategies. Adapting to a single change and transition is difficult but navigating an entirely new instructional environment placed educators and students alike into a novel frontier of complex living-learning dynamics. This adjustment has compounded life for students and made the work of student affairs professionals even more challenging and complex, particularly in the areas of student motivation, mental health, and student success. Steps beyond the traditional academic advising
model and practices were required.

A Goal Setting and Accountability Initiative

In response to today’s dynamic learning environment, Regent University launched its Life Coaching Program. This goal-setting and personal accountability initiative has helped students focus on educational goals while navigating significant change and life uncertainty—equipping them for future success.

A private liberal arts institution in Virginia, Regent University leverages the Life Coaching program to assist its 10,000-plus students, especially the 8,000-plus online learners, representing 83 percent of the student population. The program offers highly individualized support to nontraditional students (the average age of a Regent student is 38) who struggle to balance school alongside life priorities such as family, full-time work, and other significant life endeavors.

Professionally trained life coaches partner with students to help them set priorities, manage time, and better cope with stress. The focus is on getting to the heart of an issue, whether external circumstances or internal obstacles, and creating solid strategies with measurable action plans and individual accountability. Common remedies range from simple changes in habits to developing healthy mindsets to
achieve personal breakthroughs. Life coaching has helped students transform their educational experience dramatically. Several key approaches are used by life coaches.

Life coaching can be life-changing for students eager to develop healthy mindsets.

  • Students’ life experiences are unique, and they know themselves best.
  • A coaching approach affirms students’ agency and ability to take responsibility for their educational experiences.
  • Deep listening to students’ core issues, rather than surface symptoms, followed by powerful questions, facilitates student transformation.

Institutional Value of Life Coaching

Life coaches are professionally trained using the International Coaching Federation core competencies as well as institutional values. Coaches receive more than 60 hours of coaching-specific training as well as ongoing development and evaluation. Students connect with coaches using an online scheduling system readily available through the university’s student information system. Coaches and students meet for approximately 40 minutes each session. On average, students meet with a coach two to three times.

  • Life coaching helps fill the gap between traditional academic advising and mental health counseling.
  • Coaching provides multiple support options for struggling students based on their needs—online resources, virtual workshops, and individual coaching sessions.
  • Participant growth is primarily experiential and relational and is best achieved by focusing on building an action plan and personal accountability.
  • Coaching has greatest impact on retention for students who are:
    • Part-time versus full-time
    • Mid-aged (26–49) and seasoned learners (50-plus) versus traditional undergraduates (under age 26)
    • Undergraduate (slightly) versus graduate
    • Online versus on campus
  • The greatest student persistence impact from the first year to the second year occurs when students receive coaching in their first semester.
  • Although one coaching appointment helps, students who have at least two, but preferably three, appointments see the best results. This aligns with coaching practice and process as well as the “power” of three.

Tangible Impacts

  • 660 individual students were coached in the 2021 academic year with 1,419 total sessions.
  • Mid-aged students who were coached posted a retention rate 7.1 percent higher than those who were not coached.
  • The retention rate for seasoned learners who were coached was 12.2 percent higher than students not coached.
  • Part-time students who engaged in coaching had a retention rate 11 percent higher than students not coached.
  • Students recognize their success is something they can control.
  • Numerous anecdotal reports indicate increases in student confidence, competence, positive outlook, and gratitude to the university.

Learn more about Regent University’s life coaching program.

Where to Find the Article

Published in Leadership Exchange, Vol. 20, Issue 3, Fall 2022

About the Authors

Jeffrey Pittman is an associate professor in Regent University’s School of Education and serves as program chair for the master’s in education in student affairs and higher education leadership and management postmaster’s programs.

Kyle Graham is the director of the Center for Student Happiness in Regent University’s Division of Student Affairs.

Adam Williams is dean of Student Services in Regent University’s Division of Student Affairs.