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Student Coaches, Outsourcing, and Advising

September 25, 2006

It looks as if we have a “new” idea that is really a kind of recycling of the traditional idea of individual tutors: personal coaching for students. ran a story on this about five days ago, and here is a website for a particular, for-profit coaching provider, InsideTrack. The story’s intro tracked a Northeastern University (Boston, MA) student, and that individual’s reasons for, and means of acquiring, a tutor. What struck me was that Northeastern themselves hired the company to provide coaches.

Isn’t this an admission that your university’s academic and career advising programs are inadequate, or at least that both do not work together? A member of InsideTrack’s advisory board acknowledged this as a source of friction.

Apparently one large factor prompting Northeastern’s hiring of InsideTrack was student retention. The overall issue is also called student “persistence” – covered here a week or so ago in posts on graduation rates.

Part of the problem here is that university’s under-fund and underestimate the importance of broad-based student advising. Hiring a company to do this just further segments, or divides, the university. It could also be a problem of vision on the part of student advisors: they don’t see themselves as coaches and long-range helpers. It seems that the philosophical is shunted in favor of the practical in student academic advising.

If more advisors were aware of the traditional roles of professors, who acted as life/personal coaches well into the twentieth century, they’d know that students come to college, in part, because of the need wise elders with whom to converse. Perhaps advisors today are also too humble? They don’t presume to engage students about subjects the students don’t bring up themselves? – TL

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  1. Another relatively obvious extension of this divergence of professor/coach is the trend towards adjuncts, who do not play a long term role in the intellectual life of the students they connect. I know this myself; I am shocked when I have a student for a second time in a course.

    Replacing full time (let alone tenured, but that's another discussion altogether) faculty with part-time or temporary/adjunct faculty generally results in a decline in student/faculty interaction, and is one more reduction in the number of faculty who might be able to write letters on behalf of a student. I've been asked to do so as an adjunct, and my stock response is to encourage them to look elsewhere.

    I very much appreciate your wholistic discussion of the role of professor. Replacing “aged mentors” with people who are typically freshly graduated themselves seems a clear downgrade in quality, so long as we believe that experience is valuable. And it may well be that we do not.


  2. CM,

    I totally agree. Adjuncts do not feel bound to the long-term success of the individual student at their institutions. You see them in office hours, but you're less likely to just hang around the department, being available for random conversations. It is precisely these random, unstructured interactions that lead to life-changing decisions. One needs to be ~available.~

    As for 'the freshly graduated' in those mentor positions – whether working for a company like InsideTrack or even as a young Ph.D. in an assistant professor position – I think it comes down to this: time for relaxed, wise conversation. The young can at times be as wise as the old, but in any case unstructured time is necessary for reflection and conversation. – TL


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