Guidance and supports for post-secondary students

Strategy overview

  • Addressing barriers to graduation: The most effective guidance and support programs for post-secondary students often take a comprehensive approach to student success. Program components can include integrated direct student services (like personalized advising, tutoring, and career development services), pathways supporting academic momentum (such as flexible class scheduling and full-time enrollment), and financial supports (such as tuition and fee gap scholarships, textbook assistance, and free public transit passes).
  • High-frequency, 1:1 coaching: Many guidance and support programs for post-secondary students are delivered by full-time coaches. The coaches typically balance their time between student recruitment, advising sessions, data tracking and analysis, and engaging with other on-campus departments (such as tutors or the financial aid office). Multiple high-impact, evidence-based programs prioritize relatively small caseloads (approximately 1:150, which is roughly half of the national average for college advising).
  • Using data to support student needs: Many programs provide coaches with data management tools allowing them to proactively identify where students might need additional support. For instance, if a student is consistently late to a class that meets shortly after a work shift, a coach may be able to work with the student to find a section that better fits their schedule. Coaches can also use a data-informed student engagement strategy, such as identifying the times a student is most likely to reply to a text message (such as in between classes or during lunch).
  • Identifying a target population: While some programs seek to provide a subgroup of students with more tailored supports (i.e. to first generation students or income-eligible students), others are offered to all new students. Implementation of campus-wide programs often requires cultivating relationships and a dedicated point of contact in several departments, such as financial aid, academic affairs, and admissions.
Target Population
Students enrolled in post-secondary education
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, University President or Executive, School District Leadership, Nonprofit Partners, Campus Staff (e.g., Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Services), Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Proven

Multiple rigorous evaluations found that guidance and support programs for post-secondary students were associated with statistically significant increases in college graduation.

  • A 2020 research synthesis found that programs providing comprehensive support services to community college students increased enrollment, persistence, and in some cases, graduation rates.

  • Multiple rigorous evaluations of the CUNY ASAP program have found significant impacts on community college graduation, including a three-year graduation rate double that of non-program participants.

  • A 2021 randomized control trial on Bottom Line, another college advising program, found that the program was associated with an 8 percentage point increase in a student’s likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree.

How do guidance and supports for post-secondary students impact economic mobility?

  • Graduating college: Guidance and supports for post-secondary students increase the likelihood that students enroll in and graduate from college. Obtaining a post-secondary degree positions individuals for high-quality employment and higher lifetime earnings.
  • Positioning for lifelong success: Individuals with a post-secondary degree experience better health outcomes, are less likely to be incarcerated, and are able to spend more time with their children, all of which contribute to greater economic mobility.

Best practices in implementation

  • Hire high-quality coaches: Coaches deliver or refer students to nearly all services a program has to offer. Therefore, coaches must have small enough caseloads (often 100-150 students per coach, which is roughly half of the national average) to maximize their impact. By prioritizing the recruitment and hiring of enough coaches to keep caseloads small, coaches will be better positioned to offer the personalized support students need to succeed.
  • Reach students early: While approaches vary depending on target population, many programs engage with students while they are still in high school. This can include information sessions on college financing options, recruitment materials to raise awareness of on-campus supports, and partnering with high school academic advisors to facilitate smoother transitions. Early student engagement can increase the likelihood that students will attend college, and, once on campus, can serve as the foundation of a stronger relationship between students and coaches.
  • Secure local government and campus leader support: Executives both in local government and on college campuses can increase the likelihood of a program’s success through two channels: investment and vocal support. From a financial perspective, championing a program can boost support for public funding. Furthermore, high profile champions can encourage stronger collaboration between local high schools and the program; increased student and family awareness of available resources; and a higher level of buy-in among campus staff (professors, tutors, bursar, etc.), to whom a coach often refers students for additional services.
  • Measure and refine student-level interventions: In addition to the coaches themselves, another key investment is in data management tools that allow coaches to track the impact of supports they provide to students (i.e. whether a particular tutor is helping a student achieve stronger outcomes). Such data collection and analysis can foster a culture of continuous improvement and demonstrate the value of the program to funders and internal stakeholders.

Evidence-based examples

Online learning platform and community providing subsidized courses and learning materials to students 
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Strong
Comprehensive suite of services for community college students, including academic, financial, and logistical assistance
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Proven
Provides Detroit Public Schools graduates with scholarships to attend local colleges tuition-free and a range of supports once they are enrolled
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Strong
Supplementary courses or seminars instructing new college students on subjects that can improve their college experience academically, personally, and socially
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Strong
Individualized coaching for students to address academic and nonacademic barriers to remaining in college through graduation
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Promising
Comprehensive support services focused on community college completion and transition to a career or 4-year institution
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Promising
Financial, academic, and support services for college students
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Promising
Financial aid for post-secondary students conditional on achieving certain academic benchmarks
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Promising
Programming aiming to reduce college students’ social isolation and its effects on academic achievement
Post-secondary enrollment and graduation
Promising