Research News

tnAchieves coaching supports low-income students’ post-secondary persistence at Tennessee community colleges

First-year college students who receive coaching through the tnAchieves program are more likely to persist into their second year, according to new analysis from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) in collaboration with tnAchieves and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE).

tnAchieves is a non-profit partner of the Tennessee Promise program, a public initiative to increase college access and completion by providing funding and mentoring for recent Tennessee high school graduates enrolled in community or technical colleges. tnAchieves delivers targeted coaching to Tennessee Promise scholars to help them navigate enrollment processes, comply with scholarship requirements, overcome academic setbacks, and persist through degree completion.

Three key findings emerge from the research:

  • Students with greatest financial need receive majority of coaching support: Students from the 2018 to 2020 graduation cohorts with no expected family contribution (EFC) received the most support. That said, as the program has expanded to include more students, students with $0 EFC represented a reduced proportion of those receiving coaching in each successive year, decreasing from 90 percent to 71 percent to 60 percent. In 2021, these students accounted for just under 50 percent of students served by coaching. This shift in financial need corresponds with changing demographics. The proportion and number of Black students and proportion of first-generation students served by tnAchieves has fallen since 2018, while white students have represented and increasing share of tnAchieves cohorts.
  • Coaches connect with students between five and six times a year: However, the average number of attempts to contact students and connections made have decreased over time. Most connections occurred through text message and phone calls, but virtual meetings became more prevalent with the 2020 graduation cohort, reflecting common practices during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Coached students persist through college at higher rates: Students who receive tnAchieves coaching are more likely to persist into their second year of college than otherwise similar students who do not receive coaching. In fact, a coach’s attempts at reaching a student, even if they didn’t make a connection, were positively correlated with increased persistence, as just seeing a missed phone call from a coach may have been enough to motivate the student. Each successful coaching connection is associated with a 2.3 percentage-point increase in first-year persistence rates.

Overall, the tnAchieves coaching program has led to positive outcomes for student participants. Coaching substantially increases postsecondary persistence. To further improve the program, the researchers recommend increasing recruitment and outreach to low-income, first-generation, and non-white students to help restore representation of traditionally underserved groups. The researchers also recommend identifying strategies for establishing and increasing coaching connections with students, such as randomizing hard-to-reach students to different strategies and tracking connection success rates for each.